MIT has always drawn students and faculty from around the globe, but today more than ever it is important for us to work with people across national and cultural borders.

Global demand for scientific and technological skills is at an all-time high, and as never before in human history we are connected around the world through our economic and production systems, shared environment, and instant worldwide communications systems.

If our students are to become successful world citizens and leaders, they will need international experience and an understanding of other cultures.

One way that we provide them with such grounding is through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI). Based on 20 years of pioneering success with the MIT-Japan Program, the seven-year-old MISTI program combines international internships and research collaborations with innovative curricula and intensive language and cultural education, designed to prepare students to live and work in an era where advances in science, technology, and industry increasingly depend on international collaboration. MIT France, the youngest MISTI program, shows such promise that the French government recently stepped forward with a $1-million matching fund to seed the program. Run by the MIT Center for International Studies — one of the nation’s leading research centers on theoretical and applied international studies — MISTI is just one of several initiatives pioneered at MIT to better educate its students.

Another such program is the Singapore-MIT Alliance, an innovative engineering education and research collaboration among three academic institutions: the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and MIT. The goal of this three-year-old alliance is to promote global engineering education and research, providing students with access to exceptional faculty and superior research facilities. It makes effective use of advanced Internet II-based interactive educational technology.

Yet another strategic partnership now under way is an alliance between MIT and the University of Cambridge, which is called the Cambridge-MIT Institute. It supports joint research on productivity and entrepreneurship, curriculum development, faculty and student exchanges, and professional development for executives.

At the Sloan School of Management, students and faculty have long been building relationships in Asia. The China Management Education Project is a collaboration among MIT and the three top business schools in the People’s Republic of China. It provides faculty and students with firsthand knowledge of Chinese business development and has established a first-class curriculum to educate a new class of managers for the international arena.

As the economic importance of the Asia-Pacific region continues to grow, the study of Chinese language and culture has taken on a new urgency in the United States. Ten years ago, MIT established the Chinese Language and Culture Program to provide instruction in Mandarin and Chinese literature, history, and culture. Last year more than 250 students participated in this program and its efforts to strengthen the bridge between East and West and encourage communication, which is so vital to international collaboration.

A final (but by no means the last) example of student and faculty involvement in the international arena is the Alliance for Global Sustainability, a partnership formed in 1996 by MIT, the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, and the University of Tokyo. These organizations are working together with industries, governments, and non-governmental organizations to develop new knowledge, concepts, and technologies to support an agenda of sustainable development.

As the country’s leading research university in science and engineering, MIT has a responsibility to prepare its students for increasing globalization in economics, science, and culture. It is vital that we expand opportunities around the world for our students to become effective leaders and good citizens of the world.

Charles M. Vest

Charles M. Vest