FEATURE — Winter 2005


Nurturing a Network of Global Leaders

The McDonnell International Scholars Academy established worldwide partnerships to prepare tomorrow's leaders for progressively more global challenges.

By Rick Skwiot

In our increasingly interconnected world, our challenges—in fighting disease, nurturing a sustainable environment, advancing prosperity, and providing security—know no borders.

To deal with these problems, a growing international network of future leaders, top researchers, businesses, and premier universities will collaborate, cooperate, and compete in finding solutions.

That’s the hope and the promise of the newly inaugurated McDonnell International Scholars Academy at Washington University.

John C. Danforth, a former U.S. senator from Missouri, is a member of the McDonnell International Scholars Academy's external advisory committee.

Launched by Washington University and 15 leading Asian university partners with a $10 million endowment commitment from John F. McDonnell, GB ’67, and the JSM Charitable Trust, the McDonnell Academy enrolls exceptional graduate and professional students from university partners around the world. The Academy not only provides them rigorous graduate instruction in their chosen degree areas but also, uniquely, steeps them in a cultural, political, and social education program designed to prepare them as future leaders knowledgeable about the United States, other countries, and critical international issues. Other important support comes from nine multinational corporations and several other foundations and individual donors.

“The accelerating globalization and commercialization of knowledge, information, and technology tolls the end of the ivory tower and the insularity of educational and other institutions,” says Washington University Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “The McDonnell International Scholars Academy acknowledges that the increasingly interdependent world needs mutual understanding and cooperation to survive and thrive, and represents a first step toward creating a forum of top, educated minds to help foster that.”

Exceptional training for exceptional students

The first cohort of more than 20 Academy scholars will begin work at Washington University in fall 2006. These future leaders, across all graduate disciplines at Washington University, will have all expenses paid, including tuition, room, board, and travel.

John F. McDonnell, vice chairman of the University's Board of Trustees, discusses the McDonnell International Scholars Academy with reporter I Ching Ng of Ming Pao Monthly, based in Albany, New York, at a press conference on October 19 at the Overseas Press Club in New York City.

The extracurricular program for McDonnell Academy scholars includes leadership training, cultural events, seminars, and workshops with experts in key areas, conferences on crucial issues, and St. Louis and Washington, D.C., sessions with U.S. government policymakers and grant administrators, according to Wrighton.

To help guide and enhance the educational experience for McDonnell Academy scholars, each is paired with a Washington University faculty member, who serves as an ambassador–mentor and assists in the graduate scholar’s academic and professional life. These ambassadors also will travel annually with the scholar to the scholar’s alma mater and work to build relationships between Washington University and the partner university.

“While the Academy nurtures a network of the world’s premier graduate students and future leaders in a unique educational experience across disciplinary, cultural, and national boundaries, it also establishes new connections among the university partners,” says James V. Wertsch, Academy director.

“Most academic connections are usually developed along the lines of narrowly defined intellectual interests. In contrast the McDonnell Academy brings together a ready-made network of universities and top minds in all areas to talk about world problems—whether it be SARS, terrorism, or pollution,” says Wertsch, also the Marshall S. Snow Professor in Arts & Sciences and director of international and area studies. “Just as technology has become globalized, so have our challenges. The Academy is just one effort—a demonstration project—to address that fact. We hope that in 20 years it will be seen as the premier project of its sort.”

Inaugural partnerships in Asia

Wrighton says that Asia’s burgeoning economic, educational, and geopolitical importance, and Washington University’s existing Asian ties, led to the inaugural partnerships with universities there.

The International Advisory Council for Asia (IACA), consisting of more than 40 members from Asia and the United States, ranks primary among those ties. “The
IACA deserves major credit for advice and counsel on the vision, mission, and structure of the McDonnell Academy,” says Wrighton.

Washington University also boasts an Executive MBA program at Fudan University in Shanghai. Further, 10 percent of its faculty and staff and 75 percent of its international students are from Asia. However, Wrighton envisions future McDonnell Academy partnerships with universities not only in Asia, but also in Europe, Australia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, and he is working to foster stronger relationships there.

University partners, from which McDonnell Academy scholars are being invited to apply, now include Peking University in Beijing, University of Tokyo, Fudan University in Shanghai, Tsinghua University in Beijing, Yonsei University in Seoul, Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, China Agricultural University in Beijing, National University of Singapore, University of Indonesia, Seoul National University, University of Hong Kong, Korea University in Seoul, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and National Taiwan University in Taipei.

Corporations sponsor scholars

Wrighton adds that corporate interest and participation in the Academy are crucial to its success.

Each of the McDonnell Academy’s corporate fellows is supported by one of its multinational corporate sponsors. Other Academy scholars—one from each of the university partners—are funded by a special Academy endowment, says Wrighton. Sponsoring corporations also offer internships and on-site educational opportunities for corporate fellows.

At this time sponsoring corporations are Boeing, St. Louis; Cabot Corp., Boston; Charoen Pokphand Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia; Corning Inc., Corning, New York; Emerson, St. Louis; Monsanto Co., St. Louis; Nestlé Purina PetCare Co., St. Louis; Rohm and Haas, Philadelphia; and Tyco Healthcare/Mallinckrodt, St. Louis.

The Academy will be guided, in part, by an external advisory committee headed by John C. Danforth, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former U.S. senator from Missouri. Committee members include Strobe Talbott, president of The Brookings Institution and former U.S. deputy secretary of state; John F. McDonnell, retired chairman of the board of McDonnell Douglas Corporation and vice chairman of the Washington University Board of Trustees; Stephen F. Brauer, vice chairman of the Washington University Board of Trustees and former U.S. ambassador to Belgium; and representatives from nine multinational sponsoring corporations.

In addition, the Academy, Wrighton, and Wertsch will be advised by a cross-disciplinary Washington University faculty steering committee, which will serve as an admissions committee. Pratim Biswas, the Stifel & Quinette Jens Professor of Environmental Engineering Science and a member of the Academy’s faculty steering committee, wishes that he had had an opportunity like the one offered by the McDonnell Academy when he was a graduate student.

“The McDonnell Academy will give future world leaders—top graduate students doing individual research—a formalized opportunity to interact, discuss, and learn with those from other universities, cultures, and disciplines, as well as with faculty and mentors from business and government,” says Biswas.

“They’ll investigate global issues that overlap disciplines, such as environmental questions, and in the process broaden perspectives and form relationships and contacts that will aid them later in the larger world.

“I wish such a program existed when I joined Caltech as an international graduate student 25 years ago,” Biswas continues, “coming from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay—I would have loved to participate in it.”

Rick Skwiot is a free-lance writer based in St. Louis.