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  William Benter
 

Common Ground

It’s a small world, after all

When William Benter travels, he sees a lot of the same thing. Attending a Rotary International meeting in Pakistan, he sees the same thing. Visiting schools in Mongolia as part of his philanthropic efforts to improve education, he sees the same thing. Pursuing business ventures in Hong Kong, he sees, well, the same thing.

What he sees is the common humanity shared by everyone he encounters.

“I am constantly astounded,” he says, “by how, even in the most exotic corners of the world, people are fundamentally similar.” It’s something Benter, chair and international CEO of Acusis, a medical transcription company, has noticed repeatedly ever since he was an exchange student in England during his junior year in college. He sees it in the details: people from wildly diverse origins laughing together, sharing the same sense of humor; movies with instantly recognizable plots even though the language might be incomprehensible; club meetings and elementary school classrooms plagued by the same amusingly similar distractions of late arrivals and people talking out of turn. For this reason, Benter, though a Pittsburgh native, has always felt quite at home even when away from home.

But he also is amazed by how these similarities are so often overlooked or even unknown. “The issues that result in international disputes seem so small in comparison to the vast amount of commonality between people,” he says. Exposure and education, he believes, are the best ways to breed familiarity and replace misunderstanding with friendship.

In his travels, Benter looks for ways, large and small, to improve education worldwide. For instance, not long ago, he funded a lecture series in mathematics at the City University of Hong Kong. More recently, he decided to take action to help foster intercultural understanding from his hometown—Pittsburgh—and Pitt was a logical partner. “It has such close links to the city that it seemed like the natural place,” he says. “And when you talk about something like international issues, Pitt has the strongest programs in that area already.” This year, he donated $1 million to the University to establish the University Center for International Studies (UCIS) Endowed Visiting Professorship in Contemporary International Issues.

Housed within the interdisciplinary Global Studies Program—a joint offering of UCIS and Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs—the visiting professorship will welcome a new faculty member each year with expertise in a country, region, or topic that warrants intense academic attention. The professor also could hail from any number of fields—anthropology, history, law, religious studies, and so on—emphasizing that an understanding of global issues goes well beyond the political. “The professorship is intended to have an impact in the areas that need it most, focusing on issues of current relevance,” says Benter.

UCIS worked closely with Benter to realize a shared vision of how best to foster intercultural understanding. “Our goal is to offer students access to scholarship and instruction about modern history and politics, as well as critical social, cultural, and religious dimensions of world relationships,” says Eileen Weiner, interim associate director of UCIS, which houses the Asian Studies Center, the Center for Latin American Studies, the Center for Russian and East European Studies, and the European Studies Center. UCIS is also home to one of only 10 European Union Centers of Excellence nationwide, funded by the European Union. Also under the UCIS banner are undergraduate and graduate certificate programs in African Studies and Global Studies, the University’s Study Abroad Office, the Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs, and the International Business Center, jointly sponsored with the Katz Graduate School of Business.

Initially, the visiting professorship will focus on an especially critical region—the Middle East. The demand for more information about this region is definitely there, says Weiner. “We have increased enrollment in Arabic language classes, where both beginning and intermediate classes are fully, and even overenrolled,” she says. “Public lectures by visiting scholars, diplomats, and journalists exploring Middle Eastern issues invariably draw capacity audiences.” The professorship is part of a plan to build on Pitt’s strengths in other parts of the Islamic world—the Balkans, Western Asia—by developing additional resources focusing on the Middle East.

Both UCIS and Benter anticipate the visiting professorship, which will begin in spring 2008, will help bring much needed educational exposure about the Middle East to Pitt students through personal expertise, educational outreach, and interaction with the Pitt-headquartered Consortium for Educational Resources on Islamic Studies, a collaboration of 28 regional academic, nonprofit, and religious organizations.

“I realize this is one faculty member,” says Benter, “but hopefully, this person—through lectures, contacts, and the course of interaction with colleagues and students—will touch the lives of hundreds and possibly thousands of people in the Pitt community during the tenure of the professorship.” And those people will carry that understanding with them in their travels, interactions, and professional roles, too.

The result is bound to be a better and more enduring understanding of this region (and, in time, other regions, too)—and, of course, the
illumination of our common humanity. —Bo Schwerin

Notes from Novak

So far in 2007—a year when we’re celebrating the University’s 220th birthday and the 70th anniversary of the Cathedral of Learning’s completion—our fundraising efforts have continued to exceed our predictions. With the close of our fiscal year in June, I am pleased to announce that we had the best cash-in year ever—with $122 million raised.

Surpassing our goals year after year would not be possible if we did not have such consistent and generous support from our donors. At the end of June, we recognized some of our leadership donors during the Cathedral of Learning Society Dinner. The society recognizes donors who have given $1 million or more to the University throughout their lifetimes.

This year, inductees included: William F. Benter, Fred C.+ and E. Maxine Bruhns, Thomas E. Cadman+, Allen L. Cook, Kathleen DuRoss Ford and L. Frank Chopin, Anthony E. Gill+, Frank E. and Dorothy T. Jeffreys+, Katherine Mabis McKenna+, Marlin H. Mickle, Tom W. and Jeanne H. Olofson, Arnold D. Palmer, Henry and Helen Posner, the family of J. Faye and Myles D.+ Sampson, Frank and Athena Sarris, Charles M. and Rhoda Steiner, Thomas J. and Sandra L. Usher, Bethann and Gordon J. Vanscoy, Robert J. and Mary B. Weiss, Margaret E. and James Edward Wilkes, and George D. and Marianna Zamias.

Our donors—at every level—are leaving a legacy for future generations of Pitt people. Their vision continues to help Pitt become a great place for people to learn and grow. On behalf of the University of Pittsburgh, thank you for all that you do to make Pitt what it is today and will be in the years ahead. Hail to Pitt! —Al Novak

+ Posthumously honored. For more information about the Discover a World of Possibilities campaign, go online: www.giveto.pitt.edu

Campaign Watch

Institutional Advancement is committed to reaching the University’s ambitious $2 billion goal. Pitt’s alumni and friends have contributed generously, making our current campaign status $1.1 billion!


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