International education is woven so tightly into Beloit’s identity, it could almost be taken for granted. But the story of how Beloit became such an international college involves quite a few twists and turns.
It started with Protestant missionaries.
The college’s earliest pioneers in international education were alumni traveling overseas as missionaries and educators. Some became Beloit’s first high-profile international figures, including Jerome Davis (1866) in Japan, Arthur Henderson Smith (1867) and Henry Porter (1867) in China, and Thomas Christie (1871) in Turkey. Some sent students and their own children back to Beloit, and they inspired younger alumni to follow in their footsteps.
After World War I, Beloit’s worldly aspirations turned secular, marked by a growing desire to educate students about international politics, geography, languages, and cultures.
In 1924, College Dean George Collie, professor of anthropology and Logan Museum director, spearheaded a plan that was highly unconventional—even controversial—for its time. It earned Beloit national attention.
Collie argued that by recruiting international students on an unprecedented scale, Beloit could lead the way to achieving world peace—by promoting understanding and respect among people and cultures. The goal was a student body composed of 60 percent international students from Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, and 40 percent American students.
The planned curriculum included workshops that would bring together juniors and seniors focusing on race and race relations and integrating international and American students more completely.
Collie explained: “We can have conferences and prizes and courts as much as we please—they all do vast good—but until we have removed race hatred and suspicion and antagonism, we shall have war.”
Although Collie’s plan never fully materialized, it arguably moved Beloit toward the international college it has become. Beloit continued welcoming international students in growing numbers, but not on the scale Collie imagined.
At Home in the World of Ideas and the World Itself
Beloit reinvigorated its international profile in 1960, when it launched the World Outlook Program. The comprehensive plan for global learning and study abroad, eight years in the planning, laid the groundwork for Beloit’s integrated approach to international education that thrives today.
When it launched, World Outlook featured overseas seminars led by Beloit faculty, student and faculty exchanges and individual study abroad, required language competence, new concentrations in international relations and Russian studies, and internationally focused campus events.
College Dean Ivan Stone was the program’s architect, and the renovated and rededicated World Affairs Center (formerly the college library) was its campus base.
With World Outlook, Beloit was far ahead of the curve in embracing international education. A late 1950s proposal for this ambitious program sums up its aims: “To make the Beloit student at home not only in the world of ideas but in the world itself.”
Beloit’s first seminar abroad went to Brussels, Belgium, in 1960 to study newly established European common markets. Led by Professor John Kemler, that inaugural group, known as “the Brussels Sprouts,” met with ambassadors, consuls general, and business leaders. It was life-changing for participants.
It’s no wonder that one member of that small group, Robert Houdek’61, went on to a distinguished career in foreign service. “Brussels was profound,” he said in a 2010 Beloit College Magazine article. “Beloit always nurtured, developed, and directed my inclination to international affairs and the foreign service.”
Beloit’s China Connection
In 1985, as China was only beginning to open its economy to the west, Beloit inked an historic exchange program with Fudan University in Shanghai, one of the country’s most prestigious universities. It was the first known undergraduate program of its kind between a U.S. college and a major Chinese university.
Frank Wong, Beloit’s vice president for academic affairs, set the program in motion in the early 1980s. In its first year, Beloit sent five students and one faculty member to Fudan, while the same number of Chinese students and faculty came to Beloit.
The inaugural group of Chinese students took their Beloit courses in English, called themselves “the gang of five,” and even held work study jobs at nearby Todd Elementary School, teaching language and culture to Beloit-area children.
“This exchange with Fudan is a new step forward in U.S./China cultural exchange because it involves undergraduate students,” Wong told Beloit College Magazine in 1985. “It has important implications for future exchanges between Chinese and American institutions of higher education.”
Alumni Community Includes Six Ambassadors
At least six Beloit alumni have gone on to distinguished careers in foreign service, including as ambassadors.
- Robert Strong’38 had a long career with the U.S. Department of State, serving as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq from 1963-67.
- Adolph Dubs’42 was a career diplomat with postings in Germany, Liberia, Canada, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union. He was the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 1978 until 1979, when he was kidnapped and killed during an attempted rescue operation.
- Peter Tufo’59, an attorney and investment banker and former member of Beloit’s board of trustees, served as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary from 1997-2001.
- Robert Houdek’61 was the first U.S. Ambassador to Eritrea from 1993-96, U.S. Ambassador to Uganda 1985-88, and held numerous posts in the U.S. Foreign Service over four decades, most related to Africa. From 1969-71, he served on the White House staff as a special assistant to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger.
- Suzanne Kreitner Hale’70 was U.S. Ambassador to Micronesia from 2004-07 and had an extensive career as a foreign agricultural service officer, including with the U.S.D.A. in China and Japan.
- Javid Ahmad’11, an Afghanistan native and recognized expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan, is Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.