Paris Center Stories: Séverine C. Martin, Undergraduate Global Engagement | Paris

Séverine Martin, PhD, BC '04, GSAS '13, is Director of the Undergraduate Global Engagement Programs in Paris.

May 18, 2020

You have now been heading the Columbia undergraduate program in Paris for over three years. What would you say are the program's strongest accomplishments in that time?

In the past three years, there have been a lot of exciting changes in the program. To begin, the program goes beyond language acquisition and cultural immersion, by defining student growth through new kinds of pathways: research, public engagement, academic and professional prospects. This has led to the creation of over 15 program events, a solid young research community, and the launch of 7 new courses, of which 4 are Global Core. Through the expansion of the curriculum the program has attracted new audiences, from members of the local community who are interested in following the latest developments in trans-Atlantic research and higher education, to members of the Columbia Alumni community who are keen on staying connected to their alma mater through a combination of social and academic events.

Last but not least, the most glamorous new addition to the curriculum is the “Rencontres du Festival de Cannes”, which take place in the Fall and Spring for students enrolled in the French cinema course. In the Fall students are invited to a film screening and discussion at Reid Hall with a well-known director rewarded in Cannes, and in the Spring students attend the Film Festival itself as a part of their course.

Early on, you had begun thinking about ways in which the students and the Fellows of the new Institute could work together. How do you envision these interactions unfolding in the near future?

We have already started seeing beautiful synergies between the undergraduate program and the Institute, exposing students to firsthand research, and innovative practices.

Students enrolled in the Music Humanities Core curriculum course taught at Reid Hall had the opportunity for instance to meet two of the contemporary composers in residence at the Institute. Speaking directly to these artists, in addition to hearing their music performed live through the Columbia Sounds concert series, has been absolutely transformative to students who just a few weeks before were hearing classical music for the first time. Seeing the students suddenly able to listen to avant-garde contemporary music and then engage in lively discussions with their composers marked a tremendous progression in the students’ receptivity to more experimental art forms.

More fundamentally, the Institute is transforming the program’s academic curriculum by creating possibilities for Fellows to develop new courses for our undergraduate student population. In Fall 2018, Denise Murrell, a Visiting Scholar at the Institute, came to Reid Hall to present her work as curator of the extraordinary exhibition "Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet to Matisse and Beyond" which took place at Columbia University's Wallach Art Gallery earlier that year. The exhibit was then sent to Paris where it was mounted at the Musée d'Orsay. It was immediately apparent to the program that there needed to be a way for Dr. Murrell to present her pioneering scholarship to undergraduate students. In partnership with the program, she developed a course specifically dedicated to the exhibit. Dr. Murrell’s course was approved as a Global Core, and she taught it in parallel to her exhibit running at the Musée d’Orsay. Of the many things that her students learned, one of the most important lessons was: the need to develop and create greater diversity within the curatorial and academic professions of art history, and the possibility of finding overlooked narratives that are of interest to new and broader museum audiences.

The uniqueness of having scholars and artists in residence for a study abroad program is absolutely exceptional and sets the Columbia Global Engagement Program at Reid Hall (UGE | Paris) apart from any other American peer institution in France. More profound transformations of the student experiences at Reid Hall can be expected.

In what direction would you like to steer your program in the coming years?

To start, it is important to note that the program has undergone significant change through the transformation of our New York counterpart from the Office of Global Programs (OGP) to the Center for Undergraduate Global Engagement (UGE), with the arrival in January 2019 of our new Dean, Dr. Shannon Marquez. This transition, has a significant impact on our program as the new mandate of our office is much broader. Whereas OGP was designed to offer for-credit courses, UGE develops, coordinates, implements, and collaborates with other units at Columbia to support academic and co-curricular opportunities beyond study abroad. UGE’s new mandate includes global internships, global service-learning, global research and global courses on campus and abroad. As such, it is very exciting for the program to be at Reid Hall in its “Golden Age” because, as the program intends to grow, students will benefit from being in this unique site with such a fascinating history. The future is rich with possibilities!


This interview originally appeared in the Reid Hall Annual Report 2018-19.