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Cornell's International Mission
As Cornell approaches its 150th anniversary, it seeks to become a truly international university, an intellectual community rooted in New York State while fully engaged with the larger world. In pursuing this vision, Cornell continues to pursue a goal traceable to its founder, Ezra Cornell, to create "an institution where any person can find instruction in any study."
Cornell University has been called "the first American university" because at its founding in 1865 it responded to the challenges of the industrial revolution by opening its doors to all, and by combining traditional emphasis on the classic languages and humanistic disciplines with equal emphasis on theoretical and applied science. Today Cornell seeks to respond with equal vigor to the challenges of globalization by bringing the world to Cornell and Cornell to the world.
Five students from overseas joined another 407 students in Cornell's first entering class. Today, more than 3,000 students enroll from more than 120 countries. Over the years, many students from abroad have returned home to provide extraordinary leadership. For example, after graduating from Cornell in 1914, Hu Shih returned to China to become one of that country's greatest intellectuals, helping to transform his society through use of a new, vernacular language or calligraphy as that country's official written language.
Just as Cornell transforms the undergraduate and graduate students who come here from abroad, they in turn transform Cornell, exposing all Cornell students and faculty members to other perspectives and ideas.
Cornell is committed to providing more and more of its students the educational, social, and cultural benefits of living and studying abroad. Every year, more than 500 students study abroad in more than 45 different countries. Innovative new courses promote interdisciplinary exchange among faculty, staff, and students. Agriculture in Developing Nations (IARD 6200), for example, engages undergraduates in extensive field research in places such as India and Mexico. Even more dramatic are new interdisciplinary majors. Cornell's unique China-Asia Pacific Studies Program offers students a combination of intensive language instruction, study of China's history, politics, society, and foreign relations, and internships in policy positions in both Washington, D.C. and Beijing.
To bring Cornell to the world, the university is launching new teaching initiatives and forming new research partnerships in all corners of the globe. In 2004, Cornell's Weill Medical College established the first American medical school abroad, in Doha, Qatar. The university's Institute for the Study of the Continents leads collaborative studies of geodynamics with governments and universities in nine countries around the globe. And scientists in the life sciences are sharing the tools of molecular biology and genomics with colleagues around the world, transforming agriculture the way the International Rice Research Institute helped trigger the Green Revolution in the 1960s.
In every area of knowledge, from city planning to hotel administration and from engineering to law, international collaborations are transforming Cornell while they help to reshape and reform the world.
The future demands that Cornell educate its students as members of a global community, that faculty members participate fully in the ongoing global intellectual dialogue, and that the university fulfill an outreach mission that includes but is not limited to New York State. True to its tradition, Cornell will continue to innovate so that others may follow. In the nineteenth century, Cornell was established as the model for a new kind of university. As Cornell approaches its sesquicentennial, it will continue to renew that model, showing the way for higher education to meet the challenges of a changing world.
A Long International History
Photo by Abby Huber, Scotland
Cornell's first president, Andrew Dickson White, was a world traveler. A scholar, bibliophile, and diplomat to Germany, Russia, and the Hague, White attracted international students and professors to Cornell from the start: the first class included students from Nova Scotia, Brazil, England and Russia.
In the nineteenth century, Brazilians were so numerous at Cornell that they were able to support a Portuguese-language magazine, Aurora Brazileria. Soccer, only lately gaining a foothold in this country, was a common pastime in Ithaca a hundred years ago.
Chinese students also enrolled in great numbers. Sao-ke Alfred Sze, who graduated from Cornell in 1902, later became China's ambassador to the United States. And after the Boxer Rebellion, when President Theodore Roosevelt set aside Chinese reparation payments for the education of Chinese students in American colleges, Cornell was often their chosen destination. Hing Kwai Fung, the modernizer of Chinese agriculture, was a member of Cornell's Class of 1911. Hu Shih, renowned for his reform of the Chinese language, graduated in 1914. To this day, Cornell is one of the most readily identified American universities in many parts of Asia.
The university's first significant international project, the Cornell-Nanjing Crop Improvement Program, began in the 1920s, when three Cornell plant breeders led a team that developed new strains of rice, wheat, cotton, and other crops, increasing wheat yields alone by up to 50 percent. In the decades before World War II, Cornell professors trained a generation of Chinese plant scientists, including Shen Chung-han, considered the father of plant breeding in China. The Nanjing project became a model for technical cooperation and even spawned a popular literary masterpiece. Pearl S. Buck, M.A. '25, accompanied her husband, agricultural economist John Buck, to Nanjing, and out of her experience came The Good Earth.
Out of wartime demand for knowledge of foreign languages came Cornell's outstanding reputation in modern language study the foundation of many a career in international relations. Methods developed by Cornell linguists who worked with the Army Specialized Training Program in Ithaca during World War II spawned a revolution in the teaching of foreign language and culture.
Today, demand for Cornell's expertise has expanded beyond the university's traditional research spheres of agriculture, nutrition, engineering, and related areas, to contemporary subjects such as trade and productivity, centered in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations; tourism in the School of Hotel Administration; and housing and human development, in the College of Human Ecology.