In January, I traveled to Singapore to join Stanford scholars and alumni, along with industry and government leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region, for the Stanford Asia Economic Forum. The day was filled with exciting conversations about how we can foster innovation across borders and work together to advance sustainability, growth, and development. The weekend left me energized and excited, both about Stanford’s work overseas and about our connections in Asia, and around the world, that help us advance that work.
The forum highlighted Stanford’s role—and that of higher education broadly—in creating a better future for our increasingly interconnected world. First, we have an obligation to ensure that our students have the opportunity to improve their multicultural literacy and meet peers from around the globe with whom they can engage over ideas. Second, Stanford’s scholars have an important role to play in promoting global understanding, prosperity, peace, and security.
To prepare our students to act as global citizens, we must ensure they have the chance to experience the world firsthand. Stanford offers numerous opportunities to study, research, and perform service work globally. Approximately half of undergraduates study away from campus through the Bing Overseas Studies Program during their time at Stanford. I would love to see even more of our students take advantage of the opportunity. By immersing themselves in another culture, not only do they learn about the world—but often in the process they also learn more about themselves and the places they come from, whether that’s within the United States or abroad.
We’re also encouraging global thinking through the COLLEGE program, our new first-year course focused on citizenship and civic responsibility. This spring, first-year students who are enrolled in the program will take a course in global perspectives, which provides a forum for students to analyze their relationship with and responsibility to the world and our planet. Students will have the opportunity to explore a number of current issues in a global context, including sustainability, democracy, the politics of development, ethical questions around war, and more.
These links between scholars and students across borders are crucial in times of crisis. But they also matter for the day-to-day lives of people around the world, as we work to preserve our planet and improve the well-being of communities.
The second way Stanford plays a role in promoting understanding is through cross-border research. Today’s challenges are global. From climate change, to emerging and chronic diseases, to poverty and inequality, to geopolitical tensions—the problems we face require scholars to work with colleagues and peers from around the world, both to find solutions and to gain a deeper fundamental understanding of humanity and our world.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine highlighted how important these links can be. Since the war began, Stanford scholars and experts in the region, including a number of former diplomats, have provided insight into the war, helped policymakers navigate the crisis, and shared their expertise on related issues, including online disinformation and nuclear threats.
Our scholars have also worked with partners established through Stanford’s long-standing relationship with the nation of Ukraine. Since 2005, the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies has trained more than 225 Ukrainians through programs for leaders and professionals in emerging democracies. Alumni of these programs have become journalists, members of the Ukrainian parliament, leaders of NGOs, and more. Due in part to these deep ties, last May, FSI hosted a livestream address by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the Stanford community about his country’s fight for freedom and democracy.
These links between scholars and students across borders are crucial in times of crisis. But they also matter for the day-to-day lives of people around the world, as we work to preserve our planet and improve the well-being of communities. Our students and scholars play a vital role in establishing bonds that help us understand one another more fully. We’re committed to preserving and enhancing these relationships, for the benefit of our students, of Stanford, and of the world.
Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.