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A Future of Possibilities

Securing the Vision

by J. Lee Simons

Decades before the official history began to be logged on the time line, dedicated, visionary faculty and administrators moulded proposals for courses and programs—often compromising what they wanted with what the budget would support. Two decades of official Kennedy Center history has now passed, and the center has recently been given administrative support to ensure its continued progress. “We’ve established a structure that rewards faculty for their service as coordinators here,’” explained Director Jeffrey F. Ringer. “And we have confidence that the department chairs and deans are committed to supporting their faculty to participate in, and oversee, our programs.”

Academic programs have come and gone as witnessed by the time line. The four current programs: international relations, Asian studies, Latin American studies, and Middle East studies/Arabic, are strong and Ringer is “looking forward to future curriculum development, perhaps in the areas of Ancient Near Eastern studies and international development.”

This anniversary has sparked a period of reflection and charged those at the center with optimism for what the future holds. And the anniversary date providentially coincided with International Education Week (IEW), sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Education. IEW was established in 2000, and the Kennedy Center became involved for the first time in 2002. “Rather than a semester-long anniversary celebration, we made the decision to connect it with the annual International Education Week, and I think it’s a very nice fit,” Ringer affirmed. “We planned a series of events with guest speakers and student activities, all culminating with our anniversary dinner and celebration in Salt Lake with the Kennedy family.

“We are celebrating the work of dedicated people, as we also fix our course toward a future where we hope to move the Kennedy Center beyond campus to make it a major player in the national education scene,” he said. “We will build on the strengths of BYU faculty and students in both academics and research to help raise the stature of the center and approach the aims that were laid out for us twenty years ago.”

Priorities and Goals

Faculty research is a major priority. Ringer underscored that goal, as he explained, “With all the attention and effort we have put into the academic programs, research has been relatively undersupported—at least in terms of time, attention, and energy. As I have re-read the inaugural remarks made by President Holland, David Kennedy, and others, it’s clear then that they anticipated quality research on global topics of importance would be a major feature of the center. And while we’ve always done some of that, I’m convinced that we could do a better job.”

However, research does not occur without funding. “That was our motivation to seek government funding—something we’ve never done before. I’m very pleased that we played a key role in the grant to establish the Center for the Study of Europe (CSE), and the associated fellowships for students [see News section],” declared Ringer. “We’re also excited to be hosting the National Middle East Resource Center. We intend to provide the kind of support required to become a major research institution in the United States. We will pursue grants from the government and from entities such as the MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation.”

This previously unexplored avenue is sure to generate new opportunities given the quality of BYU scholars. Though competition for funds is fierce, the exercise will help the center focus, and successful receipt of those funds will allow expansion of the center’s offerings.

Major research awards lead to the kind of conference and publication activities the center has already been involved in to some extent. Each year the center has awarded research grants through an open competition. This year a solicited grant competition was added to focus on nation building in the Middle East. “We hope to drive the research agenda of BYU faculty and support them as they research key global topics. Our anticipation is that these solicited grant awards would go toward the production of books, journal articles, conferences, and other activities that will establish us as a major player, first in the Rocky Mountain West and eventually nationwide, in key international areas,” he said.

“My sense is that there is a lot of creative activity on campus and we’ve played some role in fostering that, but we can play a much bigger role in making sure that quality research is supported at the university,” he added. “Students receive research funds, faculty receive research funds, and if we properly coordinate the related activities it will add to the momentum and produce a quality academic experience for students, a quality professional experience for our faculty, and a quality enrichment experience for the community.”

Academic Essentials

From study abroad programs based in Europe—principally France, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, or London—there is now only one continent not visited by BYU students: Antarctica. “Those early programs were big, semester-long programs, and they were popular programs with seventy to eighty students,” reflected Rodney B. Boynton, Kennedy Center associate director and director of International Study Programs (ISP).

At that time, curriculum was built around general education and administered by Continuing Education. “As with any other study abroad program across the country, the programs were viewed as intense, enrichment experiences—not key to a student’s major. When the Kennedy Center was created, the connection between study abroad and the academic infrastructure at BYU stepped forward in legitimacy,” said Boynton. “They began to be viewed as essential; the highest desirable experience that students could have connected to their major. And when President Dallin Oaks reorganized the academic calendar to accommodate two semesters and two terms, departments found themselves with four months in spring/summer to accomplish as much as they could in a regular semester.”

Program Development

And that’s also when disciplines such as political science, history, and geography realized they didn’t have to sacrifice their faculty during fall and winter. “That opened the door to greater opportunities for academic departments,” Boynton said. “We all participate and collaborate on developing these programs. We’re not perfect by any means, and we haven’t achieved everything that we have wanted to achieve, but we have the structure to promote good participation.”

However, that was not always the case, Boynton elaborated, “With the creation of the International Vice President’s position [summer 2001], we now have full endorsement from the highest administrative level for ISP. That’s made all the difference in the world in the way departments and faculty approach us—in the way deans and chairs view us as collaborators and full participants in structuring a program that is what they want their students to experience.”

One challenge is to help departments formulate programs that are essential to students’ majors. “Some departments think that they cannot go off campus because it takes too much time or too much energy; it’s too hard to organize; they don’t know how it fits in; they don’t know how a foreign experience helps students—whatever the subject matter is,” he admitted. “We can collaborate and help them figure out how their discipline fits, and the program doesn’t have to run every year. When the program comes up, the most serious majors and minors have one chance to go abroad during their four years with that department.” Former ISP participants consistently report that they stand out above everybody else when being interviewed for graduate school or for jobs.

For example, the Linguistics Department had been overburdened teaching students in the discipline of teaching English as a second language (TESOL). “That department is sending students abroad for an academic experience—not just an internship or a work experience, but an academic experience abroad,” said Boynton.

The School of Education is another example. “Student teaching abroad has grown around the idea of students receiving an international experience that helps them prepare to teach in a multicultural environment in the U.S.—especially with the rising Hispanic population in the West. Students do their student teaching in Mexico,” he added. “The History Department is interested in creating a program designed around the route of the Silk Road—from China to central Europe. This still has to be proposed and approved, but it is indicative of the type of interest that is occurring within the departments.”

Planning and development of these programs involves many stewardships and may take a few months or a few years. Once the details are nailed down, such as academic legitimacy and support; impact on the local Church members and local culture; finances, etc., then it is just a matter of writing it and submitting it to the department chair and dean. Boynton said, “With their approval, the international vice president can move on it.”

Direct Enrollment

Across the nation, the majority of U.S. study abroad programs are affiliated with a local university—called direct enrollment—except BYU. Much like international students who come to BYU from Mexico, Russia, Asia, or elsewhere— two thousand annually at BYU—and enroll in classes alongside the U.S. students, they have a required English language proficiency to function in the classes. “We administer our programs, take our faculty, find our classrooms, eat together, and do field trips together. Some have claimed that causes a sense of insulation,” he explained. “However, our students are having significant experiences with local members and in many cases living with local families of other faiths. And we have done direct enrollment in the Dominican Republic; we are going to do it in Madrid and Costa Rica, too.

“We also have field studies and internships where students are working or doing research with local people. In fact, some International Volunteers programs are intimately connected with local people, but our Study Abroad is done on our own. President Batemen was pushing for us to establish closer academic institutional ties, where BYU students will have opportunities to positively influence their peers because of our standards and lifestyle.”

Although there are many students with foreign language ability, the difficulty is getting non-returned missionaries’ language ability to a level that would facilitate direct enrollment. Another barrier is the additional cost involved in enrolling at another university—students have to pay tuition to BYU and to the other school. Boynton said that “by comparison, BYU’s programs are very affordable options for students. More scholarship support would allow for greater flexibility and upgrading in our programs.”

Screening for Success

Students are carefully screened both academically and personally to assess their likelihood for success in an ISP program. Anyone can apply. The interview and acceptance process is detailed said Boynton. “We evaluate their GPA, the courses taken, year in school, previous international experience, adaptability to a foreign culture—all of which help us to identify those students who are most curious and committed to learning. In some cases, you can take an inexperienced person abroad and they blossom. They have the experience of a lifetime,” he imparted.

Once selected, the preparation is intense. Depending on the nature of the program and the faculty who are accompanying them, the preparation class will be one or three credits. In both cases, required readings, thorough discussions, and cultural training will ensure that students hit the ground running, so to speak. A significant amount of time is spent preparing students to be successful in the field.

Safety and Security

A principal reason why international study must go through the ISP office is related to safety, security, and health issues that may arise. “We provide training for faculty and students for safety and security and health issues for the whole world. We help faculty understand how to take care of their students should they get into a tough situation,” stated Boynton. “With the world the way it is, in terms of terrorism and threats and social upheaval going on all over the place, we have to be very careful. We’ve adopted a proactive approach. Before we send students, we know we’re sending them to safe places. Guatemala’s wars and fighting have been going on for thirty years, and we still send trained students there who are prepared for a successful experience.”

Campus and the Community

With the recent update of the Kennedy Center web site, the words “Expand Your World” appear on the main page. “This springs from Jeff’s vision that the Kennedy Center should contribute to campus life in a positive way by internationalizing the experience of everyone on campus,” said Cory W. Leonard, Kennedy Center assistant director. “We are interested in having an impact on faculty and students, obviously, but staff and the local community as well.” The center is often referred to as “the best kept secret on campus.”

The center is a vibrant, intellectually exciting place,” Leonard affirmed. “Our goal is for people to see the value we can add to their international interests and activities.”

Hosting Diplomats, Scientists, Playwrights

The Kennedy Center is the hosting facility for all sorts of VIPs: ambassadors, diplomats, and other international guests. “During fall and winter on average one or two people are here each week. We hosted a delegation from China yesterday [in October,” said Leonard.

The International Forum Series is well established and interspersed with visiting ambassadors that Erlend D. “Pete” Peterson, associate international vice president, brings in. “Last year we added Area Focus lectures, usually guests sponsored by the area coordinators,” said Leonard. “We anticipate there will be other, perhaps named or funded lecture series in the near future. We’ve begun hosting a Swedish lecture series, which was inaugurated in October with Hans Danelius, European jurist and former member of Sweden’s Supreme Court. There are also Norwegian and Denmark lectures that are funded once a year. “The center is interested in expanding similar lectures that would bring in VIPs, but that is beyond our budget right now. The three mentioned are being funded by individuals. In fact, the Swedish lecture is being funded by a former mission president who thinks highly of what we’re trying to do and wanted to put up the money.”

Student organizations also contribute to bringing guests to the center. Kennedy Center alumna and Foreign Serivce officer Seneca Johnson was on campus 28 October. The Foreign Service Student organization brings someone in every month. Students for International Development (SID) and UNICEF at BYU also bring in speakers. Amnesty International sponsored October’s human rights event tagged a “dialogue,” so as to be very accessible to students and the community. “There were no academic papers or critique—it was a dialogue, a discussion, a chance for those who know nothing about an issue to ask, ‘What are the issues on human rights?’” Leonard reasoned. In winter 2004, the topic will shift to global health or transatlantic relations with Europe. “We see these dialogues as a service that will excite students and others who are following international affairs,” he added.

“We want faculty, students, and the community to get involoved by suggesting speakers with whom they have a connection,” Leonard continued. “For instance, international relations (Ray Christensen), through Sigma Iota Rho, will be sponsoring a debate on global environmental issues; Latin American studies (George Handley) is in the early planning stages for a panel discussion on Latin American and Hispanic issues in Utah—globalization from a local perspective. Asian studies (George Perkins) is working with Mark Peterson about a panel discussion on North Korea, which is a very pressing issue. Next year, 6 November 2004 has been declared Korean Peace Day by a group of concerned scholars from the U.S. and other countries—Mark Peterson also wants us to participate in that.”

In addition, CSE will have its own annual lecture series, possibly one or two people a year. On 31 October they hosted their first lecture, Tony Award-winning British playwright David Edgar. Leonard emphasized that as a result of the Title VI grant, “we will have more opportunities to address European issues.”

Several of the center’s partners also hold annual events on campus: the International Society’s fourteenth annual conference was in August; the tenth annual International Law and Religion Symposium was in October; and the World Family Policy Center’s fifth annual forum was in July. The sixth annual International Field Studies Inquiry Conference will be held in winter semester. This conference is unique in that students who have participated on a field study present their international research and findings. And the university and local community are invited to attend and participate in discussions touching on global issues.

Last May, the center co-sponsored, with the International Society, a symposium for LDS national security professionals held in Washington, D.C., at the Barlow Center [see News section]. “That is a classic example of quasi-academic policy people, national security people, and intelligence people, who all got together for a great discussion, and it was a mindgrowing experience for them,” said Leonard.

BYU is one of more than 1,000 schools nationwide to benefit from the New York Times Partners in Education (PiE) program. He said, “In March 2003, Adam Clymer, chief correspondent in Washington, D.C., was the first guest; we are hoping that will happen again in winter semester.”

Also in 2003, Ringer began focusing on a “Book of the Semester.” Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor of geography at UCLA, lectured on his book Guns, Germ, and Steel as part of the IEW events. Jean Bethke Elshtain who will be featured in February, is author of Just War Against Terror: the Burden of American Power in a Violent World, a book that deals with the response to terrorism since 9/11. “Elshtain is a moral philosopher, so she takes a different approach than a political scientist. She’s from the University of Chicago and comes from a school of philosophy that is comparable to BYU in terms of its conservativism. She’s a very well respected public intellectual; she’s probably considered a centrist in most academic circles, but I think she’ll have a good fit here—and she’s very bright,” Leonard attested. “We want to focus on interesting books by authors with whom faculty or friends have a connection to help facilitate getting them here. This can be costly, but we feel the investment is worthwhile.”

Sharing the Intellectual Energy

There are new types of venues we want to sponsor and host. “We’d like to add film festivals, more art displays, multimedia— different ways to connect with our audiences,” Leonard avowed. Multimedia publications are produced from many of these events, from live and archived webcasts of lectures to print publications of conference proceedings—one more aspect of the center’s mission. “And because we are small—our conference room will only hold 100—we are utilizing modern technology to make sure all of this is available to the campus and world community,” said Leonard.

Partnerships with Alumni and Friends

In addition to pursuing public and private grants, the center is also interested in working with individuals who are willing and are in a position to contribute or sponsor—small or large. “The original endowment was established through generous donations of private individuals. Alumni and other interested parties who have an interest in global affairs ought to find in the Kennedy Center a place where they can donate time or resources toward a good cause,” Ringer advocated. “Young alumni can help in the annual fund, where their gifts are matched. Those who are further along in their careers, we hope to work with and see if we can align our mutual objectives in meeting fundraising priorities.”

At the close of this commemorative issue, we offer specific ways in which our alumni and friends may help to secure the Kennedy Center’s continued success on and off campus. While we would certainly appreciate hearing from those who would like to contribute at the endowment level, there are many other ways to make a difference. Consider these examples and determine where you, or a group of you teamed together, might be of assistance, or be creative and make a suggestion of your own:

  • contribute articles for Bridges magazine
  • offer connections with upper-level administrators, scholars, or officials who could be potential guest speakers
  • liaison for internships with your company or organization
  • volunteer as a career mentor
  • guest lecture for a class or forum (especially spring/summer terms)
  • participate in or attend conferences
  • enhance ISP program options (i.e., fund a field trip or activity that would not otherwise be an option in the program)
  • sponsor an annual guest lecture or conference
  • fund scholarships for students

Let us hear from you.