Study Abroad in Europe programs

Study abroad program offers Webster education in Europe, Africa

Robert Spencer was the director of Webster University's Geneva campus.Webster University’s first study-abroad campus opened in the fall of 1978 in Geneva, Switzerland. But its original purpose was not as a study abroad location, instead it began as just an extended international campus site for Webster.

Former European Director Robert Spencer became directly involved in the Geneva campus October 1995. He served as the director there for 18 years.

“It’s almost as if a light bulb went off for Webster to realize that these (foreign) campuses were perfectly suitable locations for study abroad programs for our students here in St. Louis, ” Spencer said.

Before 1978, Webster had already established campuses at U.S. military bases and local communities. These campuses provided education for soldiers, veterans and other working adults.

Geneva was Webster’s first international campus. Its main purpose was to provide an American-style education to English speaking students in the country.

“The aim was to serve in those local communities populations of English-speaking people who wanted access to American higher education, ” Spencer said.

Finding a place to start

When Webster first looked into starting the Geneva campus, Spencer was a junior administrator at the Webster Groves campus. He was not directly involved in the opening of the Geneva campus, but he observed the process.

He said the senior administration vetted the potential international campus locations. The Board of Trustees at Webster had to agree to the business plan before the university could move forward with a campus overseas.

Before they decided on Geneva, Webster considered a location in Athens, Greece. But due to the lack of political stability, Webster did not pursue a campus there. A military junta (a government whose power resides with the military) ruled Greece at the time. The administration and Board of Trustees were wary of setting up a campus in a country that was controlled by a military stratocracy.

Property at the Webster University Geneva campus in the 1980's.Spencer said former Media Communications Adjunct Professor John Rider spent 1976 in and out of Geneva. He got to know the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) William Scranton in Geneva.

In a casual conversation, Rider told Scranton how Webster provided graduate education to working adults at military bases and communities at times and places that were not normally available for higher education.

Scranton recommended Webster open a campus in Geneva because of the UN site, the multinational corporations and banks. He also mentioned how the 40, 000 English-speaking people there lacked higher education because the University of Geneva only taught in French and during the daytime.

Rider came back and told then Webster University President Leigh Gerdine and Provost Joseph Kelly about the conversation. The desire for a global presence motivated the establishment of abroad campuses.

“We were definitely not campus bound at Webster Groves by ’78, ” Spencer said. “We were strictly North American, but this was an opportunity that the senior administration and the Board decided to jump on, and was an almost instant success.”


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