Campus & Community

Around the world in eighty (or fewer) clicks

5 min read

New Web site is portal to University’s activities around the globe

Want to see where in the world Harvard is working? Beginning this week, it will take just the click of a mouse.

On Tuesday (May 20), Harvard launched a Web site that for the first time brings together information on all its international activities in one place. Harvard Worldwide will allow visitors to see where in the world the University maintains study abroad programs, offices, research centers, and other academic initiatives.

Planners say the site will open up new worlds for cross-disciplinary intellectual collaborations, and will also make administering international sites more efficient.

Why an international Web site? The answer is in the numbers.

Harvard has more than 700 activities in 125 countries — about two-thirds of the world. That’s nearly twice the number of programs there were five years ago, according to Harvard’s International Business Operations office.

The University also has more international students than ever — almost 20 percent of total enrollment.

And Harvard sends more students abroad than ever. Numbers more than tripled from 2001 to 2007. For summer school programs abroad, the numbers went up nearly 700 percent. (This summer, students will fan out into 19 countries for 25 study abroad programs.)

These facts gave developers of the new Web site an urgent mission: Make international information faster and easier to get.

It wasn’t always easy, and it wasn’t always fast. Two years ago, just a few days into his new role as vice provost for international affairs, Jorge Dominguez got a call from a faculty member who had a question: What does Harvard have going on in Angola?

“The answer, of course, was: I have no way of finding out,” said Dominguez. (As vice provost, he’s charged with overseeing and developing international programs, and with working with deans to plan for more.)

At the time, there was no central database of international programs, Dominguez said — a situation since rectified by two broad school-by-school surveys (the most recent one last fall).

Before those surveys, getting an answer to a simple question like the one about Angola could take weeks, said Robert W. Lammey, Harvard’s director of Global Business Compliance.

He oversaw the 2007 survey, and eventually assembled a comprehensive database of Harvard programs worldwide.

Such information is important for University administrators. Each country has its own requirements for banking, taxes, employment, and other legal matters.

But Harvard Worldwide has more than “operational benefits,” said Lammey — it will add international visibility. Faculty, staff, prospective students, alumni, and other interested viewers can use the new Web site to quickly look up research programs, internships, and other resources abroad.

In addition, the site will help with international fundraising and communication, and with planning strategies for expanding international programs.

And most important, Harvard Worldwide will reap intellectual and academic benefits, the Web site developers say.

“We’re providing a communication tool that hasn’t existed before,” said Todd Washburn, assistant provost for international affairs. In the past 18 months, as project manager, he has moved Harvard Worldwide from concept to reality. He worked with a team from the Office of the Chief Information Officer and with Harvard’s Website Development Services, which has taken full responsibility for site design and development.

Washburn said Harvard Worldwide provides “a general overview of the pretty amazing array of things Harvard has going on around the world.”

The intellectual and academic benefits are self-evident and exciting, said Dominguez, who is also Antonio Madero Professor of Mexican and Latin American Politics and Economics. Put simply, he said, “You can begin a conversation.”

One scholar might start out asking another for advice on getting a visa, he said — and those practical matters could develop into “something more far-reaching.”

Harvard Worldwide already has a range of built-in audiences.

Students from abroad are one, as they scout for educational opportunities on the Web. In the past decade, the number of international students at Harvard has risen 35 percent. In 2006-07, about 3,800 students came from 130 countries outside the United States.

In that same academic year, more than 1,400 students from Harvard College traveled abroad, studying or doing internships in 99 countries. They need a central place to search for opportunities, said Dominguez.

The Web site planners say that alumni will also turn to Harvard Worldwide. There are University graduates from nearly 190 different countries, spanning virtually the whole globe, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

International activity continues to heat up, said Lammey, who sees a trend toward more teaching activities abroad. That includes more Harvard-sponsored summer school programs and more executive education in foreign countries.

Asia is leading the way, he said, in particular India, South Korea, and China.

Last month (April) Harvard leased its first official space in China. This summer, Harvard College will launch its first internship program in China; 21 students depart on June 9. And this fall, Harvard will open an office in Beijing.

Despite the upward trend in Harvard’s Asia activities, the University still spends the most money — $100 million a year — in Africa, most of it in the form of expenditures on sponsored research projects.

But Harvard’s activities are expanding in every region of the world — and as they do, the scope of Harvard Worldwide will also expand. “Phase 2” enhancements are already in the planning stages.

“There are lots of things we want to do better,” said Washburn. In the future, there will be an online interface for users — mostly PIN-protected access for administrators so that they can update program information.

There will also be a searchable database for grants, internships, and other programs — and another for faculty research, based on key words. (The current site just provides links to existing programs and resources.)

Phase 2 will also add to the 11 “activity types” currently on Harvard Worldwide (which now include academic courses, internships, and international offices).

Expanded searches are important to a new Web site that will, as Washburn said, “open up a whole world.”