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Introductory Remarks at an Evening Reception Celebrating the Launch of the Vassar Summer Institute in Beijing, China

July 15, 2019

I want to begin by acknowledging Huang Hung’s service as a Vassar College Trustee. She is an articulate advocate for Vassar in China and provides us with unique and invaluable perspectives. It seems everyone knows Huang Hung, and to our good fortune, they are always impressed that Vassar was the college from which she graduated!

Vassar and China have longstanding and enduring links. Students have been coming to our College from China for more than a century.

The first Chinese Vassar graduate was Chen Hengzhe, also known as Sophia Chen Zen, who was in the Class of 1919. She became the first woman in China to hold the rank of professor, teaching history and English literature at Peking University.

Among our other distinguished Vassar graduates from China are Sau Lan Wu, who graduated in the Vassar Class of 1963. A physicist, she was a leader of one of the teams that discovered of the Higgs boson, popularly known as the “God particle.”

More recent graduates include Yu “Eric” Liu, Class of 2008, who is the president of Mobike, the world’s first and largest dockless bike sharing company, which was launched in Shanghai three years ago on Earth Day, and now has more than 100 million registered users around the world; and Xiaoyuan “Charlene” Ren, Class of 2013, founder of MyH2O, a water-quality information network that has built a network of more than 30 university water-testing teams and collected over 2,000 water data points across 800 villages in 23 provinces throughout China. Charlene is with us this evening.

By the way, another one of those recent graduates is my wonderful translator, Sixing Xu of the Class of 2018. Thank you!

So, Vassar has a relationship with China that is historical—and also one that is growing, rapidly. There are currently 86 students from China at Vassar—a figure that has more than doubled in the past five years—and the Class of 2023 will welcome 28 more.

Many of the members of that incoming class, as well as a number of current Vassar students and recent graduates of our College, are here this evening with family members, and I am delighted to welcome you all!

In addition, we are very pleased to be joined tonight by 18 high school students who are participating in the Vassar Summer Institute in Beijing, organized by the Diligence & Delight Learning Center (DDC); Classes started today! I offer greetings from the Vassar campus to all of you, including Anne Liu, founder of the Center, and Ming Zhang, Vice-Principal.

I am also proud to note that three members of the Vassar faculty are teaching at the summer program are here with us tonight. Would you each stand and remain standing when I say your name? Carolyn Palmer, who is a professor of Psychological Science; Justin Patch, who is a professor of Music; and Shane Slattery-Quintanilla, who is a professor of Film. And a fourth member of our faculty, Yu Zhou, a professor of Geography and a strong supporter of the Chinese student community at Vassar, also has joined us this evening.

Finally in terms of introductions and acknowledgments, I would like to note that three other senior officers of Vassar College have traveled with me to Beijing to be here tonight (please stand and remain standing until I have introduced you all): Amanita Duga-Carroll, Vice President of Communications; Tim Kane, Vice President of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development; and Wesley Dixon, Special Assistant to the President and Secretary to the Board of Trustees.

Now, let me turn to the topic of higher education in the United States more broadly, and I hope these remarks may give an understanding of the variety of pathways and what distinguishes Vassar among these.

Our model of higher education dates back to Ancient Greece and Rome, and is known as the “liberal arts.” That term is meant to describe the education appropriate for people who will become engaged citizens and community role models.

And the concept was that this type of education needed to impart key communication skills (writing, speaking, negotiating), expose students to many disciplines (arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural and information sciences), and empower students to innovate, to be creative and entrepreneurial, and to chart their own paths. These values I think are consistent with the 13th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development of the People’s Republic of China.

In the United States, the four-year, undergraduate liberal arts education is called “college” and results in a Bachelor of Arts or Science degree. This degree may be given in a college that is housed inside a university or it may occur in a standalone college. Both are excellent choices. The university has many, many students studying at the undergraduate and graduate level. All of the Ivy League use this model. In contrast, the liberal arts colleges have fewer students, most of whom are undergraduates. Liberal arts colleges have the advantage of having professors teaching and spending many hours with their students, and the education can be excellent.

Now to Vassar. Vassar was founded in 1861 and is now one of the top liberal arts colleges in the United States. We expect students to have very strong entrance exam scores, be taking an advanced curriculum, and be in the top 10% of their graduating high school class. In addition, we look for students who have shown community engagement, leadership, and a capacity to be creative and motivated by discovery.

And our outcomes are excellent, with 95% of students being employed, in graduate school, or on a competitive fellowship within 6 months of graduation. Additionally, Vassar has a 96% admit rate for Vassar students applying to law school and a 76% admit rate for Vassar students applying to medical school.

Our campus is 90 minutes by train from NYC in the Hudson River Valley and is on a 1,000-acre of land; it is gorgeous. We have 2,500 students and about 300 faculty so the ratio of students to faculty is very good, resulting in exceptional guidance from faculty. Many students do research with faculty and can publish scholarly papers during their time at Vassar if they want to, particularly in the sciences. And faculty play important roles in students’ lives—as teachers, role models, and mentors.

Vassar students come from all over the world, with about 10% of the student body coming from outside the United States. We have a specific dean for international students to ensure their needs are met. Within the United States, students come from nearly all of the US states.

In addition to having many international students on campus, nearly half of Vassar students spend a semester overseas as part of their degree–-in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and so forth. And we are delighted to be developing programs such as this one with DDC in which we are offering short-courses with Vassar faculty to expose high school students to the study of liberal arts.

Last, Vassar has many unique assets: our own art gallery, an enormous library, 27 varsity athletic teams, an active recreation center with pool, tennis courts, weight rooms and much more, a working farm, a 400-acre ecologic preserve, several fully equipped theatres and necessary equipment to make very high quality films, a new science center for research and teaching, about 250 student organizations in all areas of arts, science, and community service, and nearly 200 courses that are given in collaboration with the community so one can truly be part of the Town of Poughkeepsie, where we are located. Some of our alumni you may have heard of in addition to those already mentioned include: Meryl Streep (actress), Anne Hathaway (actress), Jackie Onassis Kennedy (the First Lady to President Kennedy), Chip Reid (CBS News Anchor, covered the White House), Jason Blum (Emmy and Oscar Award-nominated producer of, for instance, Get Out), and entrepreneur Gerry Laybourne, Founder of Nickelodeon.

I want to leave you with one last idea. Our world is changing quickly. It is difficult to know how best to prepare for this changing world, which is full of complex, interconnected and global challenges. We all wonder what is the best path. I would like to suggest one. In a changing world, the most important skill is to be able to adapt, to take in new information, and make sense of the situation. In essence, to “learn how to learn”—a most practical and pressing skill needed today. Learning how to learn is consistent with the liberal arts approach where students are exposed and must learn across many different styles, topics, and paradigms. Many of our students in fact get a firm grounding in both science and arts, or economics and theatre—enabling them to see meaningful connections, to be forever creative, and to be what we call truly educated.

In closing, I would like our current students who are here to stand up. Let me encourage the summer institute students to look around and identify a current student you might talk with about Vassar. We hope this Summer Institute program will be valuable for you and for many students from China in the future. If it goes well this year, we would hope to continue this program in the future. And to those of you enrolled in the Class of 2023, I will see you soon on campus!

— Elizabeth H. Bradley, president