Her plan was ambitious if not audacious. At that time Clarkson, like many other American universities, had no formal programs established for students to study in a foreign country. Gilder herself had never been abroad and knew little about negotiating international travel - not to mention other cultures and educational systems.
But Gilder had already staked out her position as a pioneer. When she applied to Clarkson only 50 female students were enrolled at the University. Studying overseas was simply another opportunity to be seized and a challenge to be overcome. Gilder investigated Clarkson's policies and discovered that she could take a semester-long leave of absence. She decided to pursue study at a university in Great Britain. "A logical choice," she recalls, "as there was no language barrier - or so I thought."
Over the summer she applied to several schools in Britain. Then she received an acceptance letter from a Mrs. Maria Watkins at the City University in London. Six months later, on January 5, 1978, Gilder left for London.
Today, Gilder is an environmental manager with the
State of Alaska. She; her husband, Dan; and their dog, Jax, split their time between their house in Anchorage, a cabin in Sutton, and a homestead in Ferry.
While her life has taken a number of unexpected turns and she has continued to follow the path less traveled (her homestead in Ferry, for example, is situated four miles off the road system and was largely built from the ground up by Gilder and her husband), she still considers her study abroad as among the few "defining" moments in her life.
"It gave me the experience and courage to know I could make it on my own," Gilder says. "To move someplace where you did not know anyone and see that you could successfully manage it was very important. It made the transition from college and picking a place to work easier. I wasn't afraid to go somewhere completely new."
Thirty years after Gilder's semester in London, hundreds of Clarkson students have taken advantage of the opportunities the University offers for overseas study. Today's students can choose from semester abroad programs at more than 35 universities in 19 countries, including New Zealand, Sweden, Singapore, Germany, Australia, Mexico and Ireland.
Ascolese did what many college students did back then. He got a Eurail Youthpass, which at $290 in 1983 was a relatively cheap way to travel throughout Europe. He then spent the month before the start of the semester traveling by train through France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, staying in cheap hotels and youth hostels. "It was an incredible experience," he says.
"My time abroad as a student definitely has had an impact on my life," Ascolese continues. "I focused on job opportunities that could take me abroad down the road. I accepted a job on the west coast right out of Clarkson. I wanted to be closer to Asia since that's where the explosive growth was overseas."
Ascolese also met his wife while working abroad in 1989 and raised his two children in Japan. "I can't imagine any greater impact than that," he adds. He and his family are huge soccer fans: "A sport I learned to love during my time as a student in London."
It is this confidence as well as the independence and resourcefulness students develop during their time abroad that makes it so valuable for them personally as well as professionally.
"For many students, this is the first time they have been out of the United States or spent any significant amount of time abroad," says Kathryn Johnson, vice president for University Outreach and Student Affairs. "They leave their comfort zone when they leave the U.S. They also leave their culture and often their language behind too. Even with the support we provide and the assistance they get from our overseas partners, they are still on their own to manage their day-to-day lives.
It is an education in every sense of the word."
When they return, Johnson says, they are eager to talk about their experiences. "They look at the world - as well as our own country -
in a brand new way."
After Gilder's return from her semester in England in 1978, then Dean of Admission John Chapple decided to try to establish a formal relationship with City University in London. Under his leadership, a study abroad exchange agreement was signed the following year. The first group of "official" Clarkson exchange students - two seniors and eight juniors - studied in London during the 1979-80 academic year, while three London students attended Clarkson. The program was operated through the Admission Office and remained the only study abroad program offered for the next 14 years.
It wasn't until 1993 that Johnson, then director of the Career Center, decided the time was right to develop a more ambitious study abroad program. She offered to take over the program and began to develop it in earnest. "The first thing I did was poll freshman and sophomores to determine interest level," Johnson recalls. "Needless to say, it was very high. I also asked students to rank countries in order of preference."
One year later, in 1994, a second inter-institutional agreement was signed, this time with Luleå University in Sweden. More than 15 years later, the exchange program with Luleå continues to flourish. It remains Johnson says, not only a very successful long-term partnership "but a model of the kind of mutually satisfying relationship that can develop between two schools."
By 2000, Kathryn Johnson and her team were ready to expand into Asia. "You can see how the trend is going and you want to keep step with the areas of the world that are becoming increasingly important to the U.S. and the global economy," she says. The first agreement in Asia was signed in 2003 with City University of Hong Kong.
Alison Johnson '06 (Arête) was the second Clarkson student to go to Asia in the fall of 2004. While her courses at City University of Hong Kong were taught in English, she took courses in Mandarin as well as Chinese culture and also traveled extensively throughout East Asia.
Although she was completely absorbed into the culture - the people, food, language and customs - she admits to having been homesick.
"It was hard at times," she says.
Still, the experience forever changed the way she viewed the world. "Before studying abroad, I had never been farther than Mexico or Canada so my view on the world was quite limited," she recalls. "Afterwards, I had a better sense of how much there was to see outside of New York and how important it is to see as much of the world as possible."
Since graduating, Alison Johnson has also opted to live and work abroad. "I work for HSBC Bank as an International Proposition Development Manager in the United Kingdom," she says. "I would not have received this position without previous experience overseas."
Clarkson has also established partnerships with Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul and the National University of Singapore, a school that ranks among the world's top research institutions. Clarkson welcomed two students from Singapore this past academic year, while the first group of Clarkson exchange students is scheduled to travel to Singapore in the fall.
The University recently signed an agreement with the India Institute of Technology (IIT) in Madras, to open its first study abroad program in India. The Student Life staff is also researching opportunities with two additional universities in China and one in Malaysia.
Faculty involvement and relationships with partner institutions also
translates into a high quality educational program and student experience. "The global connections of our faculty really help us leverage these agreements," says Kathryn Johnson. "Our strongest relationships are often built through faculty involvement."
In fact, a recent article published by the Institute of International Education found that half of the 162 international educators polled reported that applications for overseas study were equal to or higher than the previous year.
That study abroad programs and trips would remain strong despite gloomy economic times might seem surprising. But the increasing strength of the U.S. dollar in overseas markets makes it a more attractive prospect. Another reason may just be that students see overseas study not only for its personal value, but also as a shrewd investment in their future careers.
"Today's students understand global trends and they see the value of study abroad - particularly in a region like Asia - and the potential impact on their careers," says Johnson. "Recruiters are interested in employees with international experience and a broader awareness. Students see study abroad for the career asset that it is."
The bill will provide financial support to students studying abroad with a goal of sending at least one million students from diverse backgrounds abroad over a 10-year period. The Simon Act will dramatically increase participation in study abroad, effectively making it an important feature of 21st-century education in America.
While study abroad is encouraged throughout the University, it is mandatory for School of Business students for precisely this reason.
"Two years ago our faculty instituted our Global Study Program as a required component of our curriculum in response to the reality of today's global marketplace," says Assistant Professor Michael Wasserman, former associate dean for undergraduate programs. "Industry leaders need graduates entering the workforce to work effectively with colleagues, suppliers and customers from all corners of the world."
Business students can fulfill the requirement through a semester-long study abroad with one of Clarkson's partner institutions or through one of the short-term faculty-led immersion experiences.
It would be hard to overemphasize the impact study abroad has had on the hearts and minds of participants. In addition to affecting professional and personal decisions, many have been inspired to perform service or work for international relief organizations.
As Alison Johnson notes about her semester in Hong Kong, "I learned how much of an impact America has on the rest of the world and that being born an American is a privilege and with that privilege also comes responsibility." She is now taking a leave of absence from her job at HSBC to spend a year working with humanitarian groups on projects throughout the world.
Kevin Pilcher's '02 (E&M) study abroad at the University of Newcastle in Australia was the launch pad for his post-graduation global journey.
"There is such a wide range of opportunities in the world and studying abroad confirmed this," he says. "I have had the chance to learn and do so many different things. I was in the Peace Corps in Tanzania for two years teaching math and physics at a boarding school. I learned to speak Swahili. I lived among people with completely different lifestyles."
Currently, Pilcher is teaching English in South Korea. "Wherever I have gone, I have always met kind and generous people."
For Pilcher, as well as the hundreds of alums who have studied and worked abroad, the world is becoming "a smaller place."