President Martin Connects with Amherst Community in East Asia
Issue   |   Wed, 10/08/2014 - 01:07

Amherst College President Biddy Martin returned to campus Friday after an extended trip to East Asia as part of the college’s effort to expand its reach in China and Korea. Martin arrived in Beijing on Monday, Sept. 22, before traveling to Hong Kong on Sept. 26 and Seoul on Sept. 30.

Martin was accompanied by Chief Financial Officer Kevin Weinman for the China and Hong Kong portions of the trip, and by Senior Philanthropic Advisor and Director of International Giving Erika Shelburne for the entire trip. According to an announcement on the college’s website, they were hosted by Wei Sun Christianson ’85, the first woman from mainland China to attend the college and the current China CEO of Morgan Stanley.

The Asia trip had a diverse range of goals. Shelburne cited fundraising and parent engagement as two major focal points of the trip. Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Katie Fretwell, who did not go on the trip, said that Martin hopes to attract more applicants from the region.

“We hope this increased visibility for Amherst in Korea, Hong Kong and China will both diversify and further strengthen our pool of candidates for admission,” Fretwell said.

According to Fretwell, currently, 10 percent of Amherst students are non-U.S. citizens, and 39 percent of those are citizens of Asian countries, including 24 from China and 14 from Korea.

Shelburne said that Martin also focused on alumni engagement, media visits and partnerships with educational institutions.
“One was to engage alumni and parents, who are living in Asia, with the college, and give them an opportunity to meet the president and to share news from the college,” she said.

The trip also focused on improving media relations in Asia.

“We had a lot of media visits, and those were important because in many of these countries, people are just starting to learn about a liberal arts education and may not understand the importance of a liberal arts education,” Shelburne said.

Lastly, Martin and the college’s staff aimed to engage with other educational leaders in the region, with the goal of opening the door to possible internships, partnerships and study-abroad programs in the future. According to the college’s website, one leader is Zhanyuan Du, Vice-Minister of Education of China. Shelburne said that President Martin sought “to look at some potential partnerships with institutions abroad, maybe that we could do some either study abroad opportunities or other partnerships.”

The trip coincides with efforts by the college to expand international operations, including partnerships with non-U.S. institutions.

“One of the goals of the college’s strategic planning committee, led by Provost Peter Uvin, is to strengthen the notion of internationalization as a foundational value of the college,” Fretwell said. One of the four subcommittees of the strategic planning committee is called “The Internationalization of Liberal Arts Education.”

Martin and the accompanying college staff faced a number of challenges, according to Shelburne, including a business culture that differs dramatically from that of the U.S.

“Business is done very differently in Asia, in that it’s very relationship-based,” Shelburne said. “Alumni have said, ‘we want Amherst to make an effort to show up,’ and the fact that the president came to see them was a huge step in saying, ‘we care about you.’”

The college delegation faced an unexpected challenge when ongoing protests in Hong Kong forced Martin and Shelburne to cancel a school visit.

“We were there during the protests — you could see the action from our hotel,” Shelburne said. “We had to cancel a school visit Biddy and I had because we weren’t sure if we could get out there and get back because of road closures.”

Nonetheless, Shelburne characterized the trip as a success, in large part due to the receptiveness of the Amherst community in Asia.

“The people were very warm and engaging,” Shelburne said. “And the alumni and parents were very excited to see an emphasis on giving them some attention.”