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March 15, 2012

Smith College to Serve as Chief Academic Planning Partner for New Women's University in Asia

The Asian Women’s Leadership University, to be located in Malaysia, will provide liberal arts education with a focus on leadership.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Smith College will serve as the primary U.S. academic planning partner for the establishment of an academically rigorous undergraduate liberal arts women’s university in Malaysia, tentatively named the Asian Women’s Leadership University (AWLU).

The primary goal of the AWLU is to educate and empower women to become leaders in the advancement of social, political and economic development in Asia, according to project founders who began discussing the idea of establishing the AWLU in 2010.

Citing the growing consensus that global progress depends upon the education and empowerment of women, Smith President Carol T. Christ said the college supports the idea of expanding women’s access to high-quality education and is attracted to the opportunity to help develop a liberal arts institution that would address and take into account the particular needs and context of the Asia region.

“As we confront the challenges of our global economy, access to education is a critical resource. The leaders who will take their communities and countries forward will be those who can not only demonstrate knowledge but analyze material, synthesize arguments, and bring forward new, creative ideas and interpretations,” said Christ. “This project responds to the growing demand for those capacities, which are at the heart of American style liberal education.”

Describing the planning partnership as “congruent with Smith’s mission, resonant with our history, and consistent with our global strategy,” Christ added, “the intellectual challenge of imagining and planning a women's college in Asia for the 21st century is compelling.”

Smith has longstanding ties to Asia, having graduated its first Japanese student in 1910, and having helped to found and sustain Ginling College for women in China in the early decades of the 20th century.

The idea for the AWLU was initiated by three Smith alumnae – Hoon Eng Khoo, Mona Sinha and Barbara Hou – who constitute the founding board of the AWLU Project, a 501(c)(3) not-for profit organization in the U.S. that has the purpose of establishing the AWLU.

The Smith alumnae span three decades. Khoo, a 1973 graduate from Malaysia, is a faculty member of the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine of the National University of Singapore (NUS), where she holds a concurrent administrative post in Yale-NUS College. Sinha, a 1988 graduate from India, based in New York, is a former investment banker and restructuring professional with a deep commitment to social entrepreneurship and women’s education. Hou, a 2003 graduate from San Francisco, practiced as a corporate attorney in Hong Kong before serving as president of the AWLU Project. Khoo and Sinha both serve on Smith College’s board of trustees.

The three founders view the project as a way to honor the education they received at Smith and to pay forward the same opportunity to women of promise from new regions and coming generations.

The three-year planning partnership extends into 2015, the year that is targeted to enroll the inaugural class of 100 students in temporary facilities. While AWLU will be open to students worldwide, it is expected that most will hail from the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia. The AWLU will aim to assemble a student body that is representative of these regions’ ethnic, national, cultural, religious, and socioeconomic diversity.

When fully operational, the AWLU expects to enroll a student body of 2,000 women in a four-year residential academic program modeled on the American baccalaureate system and the US “Seven Sister” liberal arts colleges. The AWLU faculty will be international and English will be the language of instruction.

In connection with the planning partnership, Smith College will also work with a team of leading academics from Asia and the Middle East with respect to curriculum and pedagogy. Special attention will also be devoted to the development of the leadership component of the curriculum.

The AWLU Project identified Malaysia as the site for the AWLU based upon its stability, economic growth, central location, young English-speaking population, low cost of living and the Malaysian government’s support for higher education and efforts to become a recognized international education hub. In February 2012, the Malaysian government declared the AWLU as an Entry Point Project, making it one of the key national projects to catalyze Malaysia’s development.

In addition, the Penang state government will provide land to build the permanent campus of the AWLU. Penang is a UNESCO heritage site, an area with cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value.

Malaysia’s support of the AWLU comes at a time when there is consensus within government that training women leaders is necessary to sustain the nation’s growth rate.

Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. Founded in 1875 and one of the largest women’s colleges in the United States, Smith College enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students from nearly every state and 63 countries.

Vision Statement of the Asian Women’s Leadership University

The Asian Women’s Leadership University will be a world-class, globally oriented university that will nurture and strengthen each student’s ability to become full participants in society and to be the driving forces in promoting cross-cultural understanding, regional development, and international cooperation. The University’s diverse student body will embody a common spirit of enterprise and social commitment that will lead to new initiatives and contribute to national progress and create additional opportunities for others. Together, these women will form the next generation of leaders as they strive to achieve change in their communities, their countries and the world. For more information, visit:


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Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190

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