Mason to Open Campus in Songdo, Korea, in March 2014
By Michele McDonald
George Mason University will take a nearly 7,000-mile step in its commitment to becoming a university for the world when the campus in Songdo, Korea, opens next spring.
Korea’s Ministry of Education approved the plans for the Songdo campus, George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera announced Friday to the university’s Board of Visitors.
George Mason’s initial courses of undergraduate study include economics and management for the first semester kicking off in March 2014. The new campus will be a boon of educational, research, and internship opportunities for Mason students in both the United States and Korea, says Mason provost Peter 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,” Stearns says.
A global commitment is an integral aspect of Mason’s Vision. “Mason Songdo will extend our study-abroad capacity in a crucial area of the world,” Stearns says. “We’re building a North Pacific studies opportunity. The North Pacific is going to be one of the leading areas of study and, to some degree, tension, for the foreseeable future.”
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 Songdo 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, which opened last year in Songdo.
Students attending Mason Songdo will earn a Mason degree just as they would if they took classes on Mason’s Fairfax, Arlington, or Prince William Campus. Mason Songdo 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 Anne Schiller, vice president for global and international strategies. 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. “Opportunities to network internationally will make this campus attractive because networking plays a very important role in Korean culture and professional life. When students leave Korea to pursue academic excellence in English, it removes them from networking opportunities and building relationships within Korea. The Mason Songdo campus will offer these students the best of both worlds.”
Stearns expects research opportunities to open up to faculty and students as part of Mason Songdo. Biotechnology, computer gaming, economics, management, engineering, and biology are all 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.
“We began work in 2008, and we arrived at the conclusion that Songdo Korea is the right place at the right time for Mason,” Schiller says.
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 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,” she says.
Matt Zingraff was named interim president of Mason Korea in June. He served as interim vice president of research and economic development for Mason until the recent appointment of Vikas Chandhoke, former College of Science dean.
To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.