May 18, 2010

Diplomats tour campus

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What do diplomas and diplomats have in common? The University of Chicago was full of both Friday when 48 ambassadors from around the world spent the morning touring the University of Chicago campus as part of their Experience America Tour.

Organized by the State Department, the tour’s aim was to expose the Washington, D.C.-based diplomats to the America beyond the Beltway, including “one of our nation’s top universities,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it in a video addressing the ambassadors, pointing out the ties both President Obama and Supreme Court Justice Nominee Elena Kagan have to the school.

Students led tours of the University from Hull Gate to Harper Library, where the ambassadors and their spouses gathered over breakfast to hear about the University’s global role from faculty and administrators.

President Zimmer discussed the University’s impact on the world, from its work on nuclear reactions to analysis of legal structure and the growth of the population of cities.

“The University and the city have grown together, and at this moment the University is not the only great intellectual asset of the city,” said Zimmer, emphasizing Chicago’s partnerships between the public sector, education, and the private sector to help solve the city’s problems.

Dean of the College John Boyer’s speech continued with the morning’s emphasis on Chicago’s connections to the wider global community, focusing on international education through centers in London, Singapore, Paris, and, starting next fall, Beijing. He explained that the screen above the reading room’s eastern wall has coats of arms of international universities from Berlin to Calcutta to Tokyo, symbolizing the school’s commitment to international education. “The iconography of this great building spans geography, and this is a wonderful symbol of the University today,” Boyer said.

Deputy Provost for Graduate Education Cathy Cohen concluded the breakfast. “I’m proud of the work we do to advance knowledge, but all of the University must become more open and outward facing,” Cohen said. “The institution cannot exert its own way, but must work in partnership to find optimal solutions.”

But the University wasn’t the ambassadors’ only stop in Chicago; the Windy City is President Obama’s hometown and is often described as a quintessential American city, thanks to a diverse culture and a large immigrant population.

The three-day program began with an event at the Art Institute with Mayor Daley and Governor Quinn and moved on to a panel discussion with business leaders and a visit to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The ambassadors also saw the Wrigley Global Innovation Center, where they had the opportunity to taste-test new products, and they visited the Illinois Institute of Technology to see graduate students’ start-up companies.

After breakfast at the University of Chicago, the group continued on to meet with Mayor Daley at the Walter Payton College Preparatory High School and attend a panel with the mayor and CEO of Chicago public schools to discuss community development and revitalization programs.