Dr. Richard Mitten: Making International Experiences Accessible to Baruch Students
Dr. Richard Mitten is so passionate about overseas educational opportunities it’s as if his position as Director of Study Abroad at the Weissman Center for International Business was made just for him. Born and raised in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Mitten received his first bachelor’s degree from Columbia University, a second bachelor’s from the University of Cambridge and a Ph.D from the University of Vienna. He spent around 20 years living and working in Europe, having lived in England for about 4 years; in Vienna, Austria for close to 15 years; and a year in Budapest, Hungary. “I guess you can say I sort of lived international education myself and it’s just something that I became very passionate about,” says Mitten.
As a trained historian, Mitten initially traveled to Vienna to do research. There, he took on the position of executive director of the Center for International and Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Vienna. He then served as the program director for the University of California’s Vienna Study Center, and afterwards as associate professor of history at Central European University in Budapest. After returning to the States, Mitten took on the role of director of international programs at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Shortly after, in 2004, he joined the Baruch College community. “When I applied for the job [at Baruch], I had no idea what a great place this would be to work. I have never regretted coming here for a single second,” says Mitten, who also believes that working in a diverse, cosmopolitan city like New York is an international experience in itself. “Working at Baruch is like working in the UN. The students here are so remarkable; one story is more interesting than the other. And it’s really a pleasure to talk to students, hear their stories, and help them get abroad,” he says.
As director of study abroad programs at Baruch, Dr. Mitten is in charge of international education for all three schools at Baruch, including undergraduate and graduate level programs, except for the executive MBA program. In his role, Mitten does everything from accepting applications, advising students on their destination options, processing course equivalency requests, preparing documentation for visiting faculty, and taking care of incoming international exchange students. Mitten also participates in professional organizations such as NAFSA, an international association that promotes education abroad, as well as the Forum on Education Abroad, a relatively new organization created to broach wider issues in the field of international education. Dr. Mitten has also served on the advisory boards of study abroad providers such as Arcadia University and Lorenzo De’ Medici in Florence.
Over the last six years, a variety of improvements have been made to the service from the Study Abroad Office, part of the Weissman Center for International Business at Baruch College. “We’ve expanded the amount of work by at least a factor of three since I arrived because we’ve centralized everything,” Mitten says. He claims that this centralization has really increased productivity in the office, but what’s made the biggest difference is the development of an electronic study abroad portal, which was launched in September 2009. This portal has allowed Mitten and his team to centralize their data in order to save time and make things more efficient within the office. “If it [the study abroad portal] did nothing else but put the applications in electronic form, that would be enough. But in addition to that, it makes faculty recommendations electronic and it does all the course approvals. No paper is used so we don’t have to worry about getting things lost in the mail,” Mitten says enthusiastically. Along with his colleagues Zhong Li and Dixon Berry of BCTC, who were responsible for programming the portal, Mitten is hoping to showcase the technology this December at the CUNY IT conference.
Mitten notes that the number of Baruch College students studying abroad has steadily increased since he first arrived at the College. The most popular student destinations include Spain, Italy, and China. However, because a lot of students at Baruch College financially support themselves, many do not apply for study abroad out of fear that they can’t afford it. In fact, Mitten says, a larger portion of Baruch students that do study abroad often enroll in short-term programs rather than semester-long or year-long exchanges. “It’s a function of the student’s perceived belief that it’s too expensive or that if they go abroad for a semester they will lose track on their degree and somehow not be able to keep up. What we really need to do is get the message to students the first time they come to college to save their electives! Because even if you can’t find a program that offers courses in your major in a destination you really want to go you’ll still have the possibility of getting a full semester’s worth of elective credit,” he says.
Today, Mitten is looking to not only expand the number of students studying abroad on long-term programs, but also to continue to enhance the quality of these programs. He is also working with the new international business major being offered at Baruch to establish a requirement of international experience, preferably a semester abroad. “We’ve been working with our exchange partner universities to try to coordinate the curricula at the host university and at Baruch so that at least the international business majors will get exactly the courses they need to stay on track with their major requirements,” says Mitten. This will be used as a model for curriculum integration throughout the College. Mitten hopes that once different departments get on board, the study abroad office will be able to integrate this into most majors at Baruch.
“A quality college education will impart knowledge, teach students to think critically, and help prepare them for whatever professional career path they choose,” says Mitten. “Baruch College fulfills these overall objectives well for students, but in today’s ‘globalized’ world students need specific knowledge and skills to succeed. The knowledge and the skills students develop while studying abroad give them a competitive advantage in almost any field they wish to enter.”
—Johanna Marie Ferreira