College helps launch Asian Women’s Leadership University Project in Malaysia

College helps launch Asian Women’s Leadership University Project in Malaysia
By Shuyao Kong –

The Asian Women’s Leadership University Project (AWLU) in Malaysia is probably the Seven Sisters’ closest relative. Not only was it launched by a Smith alumna, Barbara Hou ’03, but its idea of educating women leaders also corresponds with that of the Seven Sisters. With President Carol Christ and Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella on the Board of Advisers, and with help from organizations and individuals around the world, AWLU is moving rapidly toward its planned inauguration in 2015.

As the very first women’s leadership university in Asia, the goal of the organization is to
educate women from different backgrounds and religions to reach their intellectual and personal potential and to become professionals, leaders and service-oriented citizens. As a non-profit organization that aims to empower women, AWLU’s development has been supported by various organizations that not only help with the initial launch, but also work to ensure future academic collaboration. For example, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Malaysia has signed a Collaboration Agreement to serve as AWLU’s Graduate Pathway Partner, which will allow students to receive internship opportunities with medical research faculty.

“The reason we started with Asia is that we saw the great demand and need for more access to the type of education offered at U.S. liberal arts colleges and recognized that for many students, distance, cost and an increasingly challenging admission for international students meant that this form of education was limited to a select few,” said Hou. She also discussed her ambition to “scale up” the project to other areas of the world in the future.

Compared to some existing women’s leadership programs in Asia such as the Asian Foundation and the Asian Pacific Women’s Leadership Initiative, which target candidates who seek career opportunities more than academic ones, AWLU targets students looking for educational opportunities while also obtaining practical skills.

“The university aims to attract students who value a U.S.-style liberal arts education, who are attracted to the university’s institutional mission to educate and empower women and who benefit from a cost advantage from studying in Asia,” said Hou.

There has been an increasing number of Asian students entering American colleges for the past decade. Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that Asian countries composed 6 out of the 10 top countries that sent students to the U.S. in 2010. According to a research report by An Ran, professor of education at South China University of Technology, most Chinese students are motivated by the language learning environment, abundant work opportunities and what is perceived by some to be a more prestigious degree in the U.S. As a result of this pattern, Hou argues that the AWLU must attract those students who might otherwise choose to attend American universities.

The secret to achieving this, according to Hou, lies in the combination of both a liberal arts education and leadership training.

“A liberal arts education trains students to become critical and analytical thinkers, to take in information from a wide range of perspectives and to make informed but independent and thoughtful decisions,” she said. “These cognitive abilities are really leadership abilities. Complementing these skill sets with public speaking skills, computer literacy, financial literacy or entrepreneurship skills gives students the technical – not just academic or cognitive – ability to carry out their vision and ideas as leaders.”

Currently, AWLU is actively seeking volunteers around the world, especially students from the Seven Sisters. Student can become involved by becoming campus representatives, by spreading visibility through Facebook “likes” and by donating $25 to the Campus Campaign, which can be accessed online. There are also possible internship opportunities in Malaysia this coming summer.

Please first contact Carolyn Hou (, Xuanzi Jia ( or