A Global Gettysburg

Last week, we were pleased to welcome Dr. Allan Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education, to our campus. During his visit, we told Dr. Goodman about our work to bring an international perspective to our students’ experience, and asked him how we might enhance our students’ preparation for professional and civic responsibility in an increasingly interconnected world.

While Dr. Goodman gave us some ideas to consider, he also shared some encouraging news: Gettysburg College is already doing an excellent job in this area—better than 80% of U.S. colleges and universities.

With Dr. Goodman’s assessment on my mind, I was struck by the number of times a global perspective came into focus throughout the remainder of the day’s activities. Later that morning, I participated in a meeting to discuss a faculty trip to India in May to study food security and connect with Indian scholars in their academic fields. During this gathering, we also discussed an upcoming meeting with Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development and Office of International Business Development, during which we hope to explore opportunities for increased educational partnerships with India and increased Indian student recruitment.

That afternoon, our faculty meeting was devoted to the topic of internationalization, and our Internationalization Coordinating Committee shared their draft global learning outcomes for our students. While mingling after the meeting, I spoke to two faculty members who are taking their classes abroad—one to Paris over spring break, and another to Trinidad and Tobago at the end of semester.

Next, I headed across campus to attend a reception for our first-year foreign language scholars—a group of students who placed into advanced foreign language courses during their first semester at Gettysburg, and who plan continued language coursework and study abroad experiences.

Professors Alan Perry (center) and Elizabeth Richardson Viti (right) meet with first-year language scholars.

Professors Alan Perry (center) and Elizabeth Richardson Viti (right) meet with first-year foreign language scholars.

Upon returning home that evening, I picked up our winter edition of the Gettysburg Magazine and read the article about Kanji expert Bret Mayer ’04—the first person outside of Eastern Asia to master the Japanese Kanji Aptitude Test. (That same magazine features an article about David Wemer ’14, who received an award from the American Historical Society on his work on economic transition in Slovakia; a short piece on Professor Brent Talbot’s trip to Bali with twelve Sunderman Conservatory students to learn Gamelan; and a story on how Peter ’86 and Kim Erskine carried their passion for travel and artisan-produced goods from around the world into a successful business venture.)

As I reflected on the day, I realized that it wasn’t particularly extraordinary. Perhaps that’s because global education is becoming such an important part of the Gettysburg experience—including nearly 100 study abroad programs in 50 countries, an increasing number of international students who are studying on our campus, majors dedicated to foreign language and cultures, courses throughout the College that integrate international themes and global issues, and service-learning immersion experiences around the world.

Chinese Language students visited Philadelphia's Chinatown this fall, where they toured with Master Chef Joseph Poon to learn more about Chinese traditions and culture.

Chinese Language students visited Philadelphia’s Chinatown this fall, where they toured with Master Chef Joseph Poon to learn more about Chinese traditions and culture.

Over the next few months, you’ll hear about our plans to transform Plank Gym into a global pavilion, and our efforts to bring increased focus to our global programs and to provide new opportunities for their integration. These initiatives are of great importance as we prepare Gettysburg students to be active leaders and participants in a changing and increasingly globally interconnected world.

From classroom experiences to out-of-classroom ventures to alumni pursuits, there is no question that Gettysburg is going global!

East Meets West – the Sunderman Conservatory goes to China

Sunderman Conservatory students perform with students from Shaanxi Normal University.

Sunderman Conservatory students perform with students from Shaanxi Normal University.

A few days ago, Ed and I returned from a trip to China with Gettysburg College’s wind symphony who toured China and Singapore over the break between semesters. Sadly, we had to come back to Gettysburg as the group was leaving for the final leg of the trip in warm and sunny Singapore! Led by Director of Bands and Associate Professor of Music Russell McCutcheon, the tour, aptly named East Meets West, provided our students with a taste of China and Singapore and an opportunity for cultural exchange. Concerts at a variety of universities included a range of music from John Philip Sousa’s Hands Across the Sea to Chen Yi’s Spring Festival and Dragon Rhyme. Our musicians performed superbly and in some venues had the opportunity to meet with Chinese musicians and exchange some music with them. Between concerts, we visited many well-known sites in Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, and Suzhou. Along the way we shared rides on buses, boats, and rickshaws; improved our chopsticks skills; enjoyed tea with every meal; shared lots of laughs; and developed great camaraderie. Two students, Jane Best and David Dalton, kept a blog of the trip, which provides a great description of the tour and our various activities.

A group of us decided to climb the Great Wall. It was incredible!

A group of us decided to climb the Great Wall. It was incredible!

As I said to the students one night, I knew this group was capable, bright, and musically talented before we left. What I found out while traveling with them is that they also have great spirit and self-discipline. Not only were they terrific traveling companions, but they were also fabulous ambassadors for Gettysburg College. It was truly a privilege to travel with this group and to get to know these students better. I could not have been prouder of them!

Lionel Hong '12 joined us to help translate (Shanghai)

Lionel Hong ’12 joined us to help translate (Shanghai).

I was also touched by the fact that several parents of our Chinese students drove long distances to come to our concerts and receptions, as this was their first opportunity for direct contact with Gettysburg College. In addition, some of our alumni and current Chinese students who had traveled home for the break came to the concerts and receptions. One student traveled 8 hours by train to be with his “Gettysburg College family.” I am always struck by the power of the Gettysburg College bond, but never have I felt it more strongly than I did at these events on the other side of the world.

Gettysburg’s legacy in empowering students to succeed

Over the past few months, the Obama administration has brought a great deal of attention to higher education.  First Lady Michele Obama has joined the conversation with her recent remarks on the “power of education,” which highlighted the fact that high-achieving, low-income students are likely to “undermatch” in their college applications and enrollment. That is, these students are less likely to apply to the highly selective institutions for which they are qualified, and may believe that college—and especially a school like Gettysburg College—is out of reach.

Curry and Jones with Philadelphia Futures alumni

Curry and Jones with Philadelphia Futures alumni

Given this national issue, I’m proud to say that we work diligently here at Gettysburg to recruit and retain students from all backgrounds. Recently, the Philadelphia Inquirer featured the College’s 12-year relationship with Philadelphia Futures, a program that supports the city’s low-income, first-generation-to-college students as they prepare for, apply to, and pursue a post-secondary education. Our relationship with Philadelphia Futures started in 2001 when our Senior Associate Director of Admissions, Darryl Jones, met with the Director of Philadelphia Futures, Joan Mazzotti, to discuss how we might make a Gettysburg College education more accessible to these students. In this partnership, our admissions and intercultural advancement offices collaborate with Philadelphia Futures to help these students visit campus, provide them with the financial aid they need, and give them on-campus assistance as they navigate the academic and social challenges of college. In October, our Philadelphia area alumni, parents, and friends joined Philadelphia Futures staff, board members, and alumni to celebrate this partnership.  I left the event feeling both inspired and humbled by the Futures program and the work that so many do in support of these students.

Our partnership with Philadelphia Futures is just one of many ways in which we are working to make a Gettysburg College education available to more students. We dedicate nearly $48 million of our annual budget to financial aid. Our admissions office partners with 14 community-based organizations operating in 12 states (and two in the District of Columbia) to recruit a diverse body of students. We work with the CollegeBound Initiative to host an annual Summer Institute, during which students learn about college admissions and financial aid.

We’ve also gotten engaged directly with primary and secondary schools in ways that we hope will help to make higher education a reality for more students. Our Advancing Science program brings science to life at schools throughout the region, and we host students and teachers from underserved schools on our campus in the summer to learn about the Civil War from our expert historians. Our students regularly volunteer in programs such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and mentor students in local area schools through our Center for Public Service.  And each year a number of our graduates go on to serve in organizations such as the National College Advising Corps and Teach for America.

While we are proud of our progress and efforts to date, we also acknowledge that there’s much more work to be done.  I appreciate the support that so many of our alumni, parents, and friends have provided and continue to provide to assure that a Gettysburg education is accessible to those who cannot afford it.  We will continue to welcome and encourage those students who have the potential to make the most of a Gettysburg education, regardless of their socioeconomic status. For all of our students, this opportunity is invaluable—and we look forward to the impact they will have on their communities and professions as they go on beyond Gettysburg.

Public Service: The Legacy of Kennedy

Kennedy signs Peace Corps Act

President John F. Kennedy signs the Peace Corps act in to law on September 22, 1961. Photo credit: Abbie Rowe, White House Photographs, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

I remember the day clearly.

It was my father’s birthday. I was in 3rd grade, and our teacher had wheeled in the TV cart for our weekly French lesson. Not long into the lesson, the show was interrupted with the announcement that the President had been shot.

My classmates and I were sent out on the playground for recess. My guess is that the teachers were overcome with grief and needed some time to collect their thoughts. Then my friend’s mother picked us up from school, and I remember a sense of pervasive sadness.

November 22, 1963 is a date that lives in the hearts and minds of my generation. We can all remember where we were when we heard the news that JFK had been shot. The 50th anniversary of that tragic day in Dallas has led many of us to think back to that moment and consider the legacy of Kennedy’s brief presidency.

For many of us, the line most indelibly linked to John F. Kennedy is a sentence he uttered towards the end of his inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” I remember hearing this as a child and realizing its power even then.

Today, many fear that we’ve forgotten Kennedy’s perspective and that our youth don’t understand it. We refer to today’s young adults as the Millennial generation. Some have characterized this generation as self-centered and entitled, asking what others can do for them, rather than what they can do for others.

Although there is surely some truth in this description, as a college president, I have developed a different perspective. The students I interact with on a daily basis bring a passion and energy for public service that has earned my respect. Earlier this year, Gettysburg College was one of five colleges and universities in the nation to be named a Presidential Awardee in the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll — the highest honor an institution can receive for its commitment to public service. More than 70 percent of Gettysburg students collectively spent more than 72,000 hours engaged in service-related activities last year.

In addition to providing needed service, our students also engage with community members to facilitate partnerships and alliances that foster social justice and positive personal and community change. Our students want to make a difference in their local communities, and they want to make a difference in the world.

Founder of the DC Central Kitchen and the L.A. Kitchen Robert Egger hit it on the nose when he told our 2010 graduates, “From where I stand, you are ‘Generation Now.’ This country needs you now. This world needs you now. Behind you are millions of younger peers who are looking to you to break new ground.”

Our graduates understand this responsibility. Nearly 25% of Gettysburg College alumni work in education, government service, or social work. Many more take on volunteer roles to advance their communities. Our college has been recognized as a top producer of workers for the Peace Corps, an organization created by JFK.

More than ever, our nation needs graduates who are passionate about education, who are eager to work in the nonprofit sector, and who will find ways to engage in public service—professionally or personally. Today’s colleges must provide that preparation and that inspiration. Today’s colleges must put the question posed by JFK in front of their students every day: what can you do for your country, for your community, for the world?

This blog post also appeared in the Huffington Post on November 22, 2013.

Gettysburg Grateful

Homecoming Weekend always brings much happiness to campus as alumni return to our College, reunite, and reconnect.  As part of the Homecoming festivities in September, we held our annual Cupola and 1832 Society dinner in honor of our most generous donors. The theme of the evening was Gettysburg Grateful, and was captured beautifully by three students who took a few moments to say thank you for the opportunities made possible through the support of our alumni, parents, and friends.  Stories like these are impressive and touching reminders of the great work we do here at Gettysburg College, and how essential the commitment and support of our donors is to making these experiences possible.

Please enjoy the video!

Heroes Among Us

One of the perks of being Gettysburg College’s president is that I get to meet some amazing people.  Of course, chief on that list are students, parents, and alumni.  But I get to meet some other people as well:  over the last year I’ve spoken and emailed with actor Stephen Lang; I’ve shared a stage with filmmaker Stephen Spielberg; I’ve had dinner with presidential adviser and political analyst David Gergen; I’ve spoken with historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin; I’ve met Ralph Nader; I’ve hosted Beau Bridges at a party in my home.  And just last week I got to meet TV news journalist Chris Wallace.

But on the day I met Chris Wallace, I also met three individuals who have won the Congressional Medal of Honor, and that is something I will not soon forget.  Gettysburg was the site for the 2013 annual Congressional Medal of Honor Society Convention, which was a three-day event that included a community forum on the Gettysburg College campus.  Having this event in Gettysburg during the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg seemed especially appropriate since the Medal of Honor was first given by Abraham Lincoln for acts of military valor during the Civil War.  Interestingly, another U.S. President closely associated with Gettysburg, Dwight Eisenhower, signed the legislation that chartered the Medal of Honor Society in 1958.

Col. Harvey C. "Barney" Barnum shared with me a medallion he earned for his service in Vietnam.

Col. Harvey C. “Barney” Barnum sharing with me a medallion he earned for his service in Vietnam.

Today there are 80 living Medal of Honor recipients, and three of them sat on our stage in the College Union Building on Friday morning and spoke very humbly about their acts of courage under fire.  As part of the program, Tom McCracken ’66, a former Navy fighter pilot who flew over 400 combat missions, read a citation for Gettysburg College’s own Lieutenant Stephen Doane ’70, who won the Medal of Honor by sacrificing his life in Vietnam to save others.  These acts of heroism—those of Lieutenant Doane and the three people who were on Gettysburg’s stage:  Staff Sargeant Sal Giunta, Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha, and Colonel “Barney” Barnum—are truly unimaginable for most of us.  I am certain there wasn’t a person in the crowd on Friday who wasn’t in awe of these individuals and their acts of courage and selflessness.

So what can those of us who are not in the military take from this?

Not too long ago, my son gave me a book titled, very simply, Hero.  On the back cover of the book, there is a definition: “A hero is someone we admire.  Someone we look up to.  Someone who gives us hope.  Not a myth, or an icon, or a legend—someone solid, genuine and real.  An ordinary person who does extraordinary things.  A hero picks us up when we are down.  Believes in us before we believe in ourselves.  Inspires us to expand and embrace what’s possible.  Helps us realize that we can be heroes, too.”

The men on our stage on Friday certainly fit that definition of hero:  ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.  And perhaps by their presence and through their stories, they helped those of us in the audience realize that we can be heroes, too.  Although, thankfully, most of us will not find ourselves in the chaos of battle, I believe that all of us can do extraordinary things.  We can care for the sick or disabled. We can provide a positive role model for a young person. We can speak up for the disenfranchised.  These small, everyday acts of heroism can have tremendous impact.  My hope is that at Gettysburg College, we are preparing tomorrow’s heroes.

Post-Graduate Success not Solely Based on Earnings

The irony hit me immediately.

Last Thursday, President Obama unveiled plans to rate and reward colleges and universities based on outcomes as measured by the earnings of their graduates.

And yet, just a few months ago, President Obama recognized Gettysburg College and four other higher education institutions as national models for our commitment to civic engagement and community service.

I’m having trouble reconciling these two instances. Where in President Obama’s plan for evaluating institutions of higher education is the role that a college or university plays in preparing students for community service, for lives of responsible citizenship?  Surely the President does not believe that the value of a person’s contribution to society can be measured by how much money he or she makes. 

At Gettysburg College, more than 70 percent of our students engage in community service. They provide tutoring and ESL lessons to migrant workers and their families, they help address the food gap in our community through innovative programs and services, and they support sustainable development projects abroad. While many of our students go on to lucrative careers, many of them also pursue careers in public service—they join the Peace Corps, they become educators, they work in nonprofits.  And we consider them to be successful.

Members of the Class of 2017 volunteer at Gettysburg's Campus Kitchens program during GIV Day.

Members of the Class of 2017 volunteer at Gettysburg’s Campus Kitchens program during GIV Day.

More than ever, our nation needs graduates who are passionate about education, eager to work in the non-profit sector, and engage in public service careers. Although these careers don’t necessarily yield high incomes, they are of great importance to our society and often quite fulfilling for those who choose them.  A system that rates our colleges and universities based upon graduate income is likely to dissuade institutions from encouraging students to take on these important roles.

Over the past few days, I have heard from some Gettysburg College alumni who question the President’s plan and the impact it could have. A recent graduate who is a high school math teacher said he was sorry if his modest salary might impact his alma mater’s rating in a negative way; however, he would never apologize for choosing to help students learn about math and about life.  In my eyes, this young graduate has found success, despite the fact that he is not earning a 6- or 7-figure salary.

We need more Americans who can think clearly and critically, who aren’t afraid to face society’s challenges, who can solve complex problems, work collaboratively, behave ethically, and fully embrace their role as responsible citizens of our communities, our nation, and our world. We need more graduates who are inspired to make this world a better place.

This blog is an excerpt from my op-ed in the August 27 issue of the Huffington Post. Read the full piece on their website.