George Mason University took a nearly 7,000-mile step in its commitment to becoming a university for the world when the campus in Songdo, Korea, opened this spring.
In October 2013, Matthew Zingraff, interim president and provost of Mason Korea, met with the mayor of Incheon Metropolitan City, the commissioner of the Incheon Free Economic Zone Authority (IFEZA), the president of the Songdo Global University Foundation, and various other academic and government leaders during the final signing ceremony for the operation support agreement.
At the ceremony, Zingraff presented the official agreement, signed by George Mason provost Peter Stearns, which served as the final step in a long process to create and open the new Mason Korea Campus and begin enrolling undergraduate students in March 2014.
The new campus is a boon of educational, research, and internship opportunities for Mason students in both the United States and Korea, says Stearns. “Preparing students for their future lives and careers has to involve a serious global component because they’re living in a world where global interactions are increasingly going to be part of the fabric of their lives.”
Students on the Mason Korea Campus have enrolled in economics and management degrees and are joined by Fairfax Campus students who are taking general education and elective courses during this inaugural semester. The Office of Global and International Strategies has secured new academic scholarships for Mason-Fairfax students to enroll in Mason Korea’s inaugural semester.
“We already have five students who have mapped out how a semester at Mason Korea will fit into their degrees,” says Anne Schiller, vice president for Global and International Strategies. “The Global Office team and others are working tirelessly to ensure they have an amazing experience full of rich cultural engagement, challenging academic work, and opportunities for personal growth that will help them attain a ‘global mindset’ with which to build their future.”
Ranging from economics and global affairs majors to undeclared freshmen and sophomores, this first group of Mason-Fairfax students traveled to Mason Korea in March. They were joined by Mason faculty members—anthropology professor David Haines, sociology professor Karen Rosenblum, and mathematical sciences professor John Kulesza—who are teaching the inaugural class.
A commitment to creating a global learning platform is an integral aspect of Mason’s Vision and Strategic Plan. “Mason Korea will extend our study-abroad capacity in a crucial area of the world,” Stearns says.
Songdo is part of South Korea’s Incheon Free Economic Zone—a 42,000-acre area designed for 850,000 people. It’s 25 miles from Seoul and a two-hour flight from China and Japan.
Mason Korea joins the Songdo Global University Campus, along with the University of Utah, Belgium’s Ghent University, and the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook.
Students attending Mason Korea will earn a Mason degree just as they would if they took classes on Mason’s Fairfax, Arlington, or Prince William Campuses. Mason Korea students will spend the fourth and fifth semesters (third year) on the Fairfax Campus, with all other course work to be completed in Songdo.
South Korea, with its intense focus on education, is a prime market for Mason, says Schiller. Korean students who would like an English-based education typically take up their undergraduate studies in the United States, Great Britain, or Australia, but the Songdo campus enables students to stay close to home. Koreans spent $4.5 billion in 2011 to study abroad, according to the Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
“It’s a great opportunity for Korean students to have an international education that’s based in Korea,” Schiller says.
Stearns expects research opportunities to open up to faculty and students as part of Mason Songdo. Biotechnology, computer gaming, economics, management, engineering, and biology all are potential areas of collaboration, he says.
Songdo is known as a “smart city” because it’s built from the ground up to incorporate technology. Networking giant Cisco Systems pledged in 2009 to invest $2 billion in the Songdo project’s citywide network. Other companies such as Boeing, Samsung, and Hyundai are part of the growing region.
“I’ve been interested in the Songdo campus because of the research and education opportunities, but just Songdo itself is impressive,” Stearns says. “The Koreans have taken a major initiative. There’s a ‘world of the future’ aspect that makes it very exciting to be a part of it.”
The South Korean government approached Mason in 2008 about opening a Mason campus in Songdo. A $1 million grant in 2009 from the Korean government made it possible for Mason to begin detailed planning.
Mason faculty, staff, students, alumni, and the Board of Visitors have contributed to the extensive planning of the Mason Songdo campus. The Korean government will subsidize Mason’s Songdo campus for at least the first five years, including free use of buildings and utilities.
“We did not invest a single dollar from the Virginia campus,” says Min Park, executive director of Korea Campus Operations. “It’s zero cost to Mason and the Commonwealth of Virginia government.”
And Mason Korea will be self-sustaining in short order, says Schiller. “We fully expect to be sustainable before we reach the end of the financial incentive period.”
James Burke and Cameron Carter contributed to this story.