Affirming Experiences

By President William E. Troutt


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Two recent experiences have reinforced my conviction that Rhodes is on the right track.

The first was a Lumina Foundation conference on college costs in Washington, DC. At that meeting I had the privilege of talking about both the work of the Congressional Commission on College Costs, which I chaired several years ago, and our current Rhodes Student Associate program which redefines student work in ways that benefit both the student and the college.

The conference highlight was an address by New York Times foreign affairs correspondent Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat. Both the book and his presentation underscore the challenges of preparing young people for a global society. As Friedman reminded us, “There is no such thing anymore as an American job,” and, “Today you can innovate without immigrating.” In a world where “innovation will be on steroids,” the single most important attribute for success will be the ability to learn continually—to develop “a lifelong passion for learning.” That passion comes in part from having professors of the same great caliber you remember from your days at Rhodes.

I had the chance to ask Friedman what he thought should be the key component of a college curriculum designed to help students compete effectively in the future. He believes the key is helping students learn to “think horizontally” and make connections among seemingly disparate kinds of knowledge. He was describing in a nutshell the heart of our new curriculum and what we value most about student learning at Rhodes.

My second affirming experience has been serving on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Commission, a bipartisan panel charged by Congress and President Bush with recommending a program to expand greatly the opportunity for American college students to study abroad, with special emphasis on studying in developing nations. The commission recently issued a report that brings to life the vision of the late Sen. Paul Simon, who worked with Congress to create the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program. Simon envisioned millions of American undergraduates studying abroad and carrying the name and values of Lincoln with them.

Our report establishes a 10-year goal of 1 million college students studying abroad annually. Why is study abroad necessary? Because, as Friedman reminds us, the world is flat. Because, as the Lincoln Commission report states, “For their own future and that of the nation, college graduates today must be internationally competent.” Because local economies are no longer local. It is increasingly difficult to identify American companies or organizations that don’t rely on some type of international relationship. One in six American jobs is now tied to international trade.

Thinking more broadly, what nations don’t know can and does hurt them. Our lack of knowledge about Vietnam hurt us. Our lack of knowledge about the Middle East plagues us today. Our lack of knowledge about China and India will undermine our future. In foreign affairs, national security and commerce, what we do not know exacts a heavy toll.

Thinking about all that is happening in the world today affirms for me the wisdom of our faculty in adopting a curriculum that will ensure that all graduates are proficient in a second language and have the ability to view the world from more than one cultural perspective. I hope that after you read about the new curriculum in this issue you will share my conviction that our students will fare forward well prepared to thrive in this exciting new world.