|International Test Winner Credits His Longstanding Interest in Other Nations
September 18, 2008
Contact: Bill Giduz
Davidson College freshman Kelvin Bates admits there may have been a little luck involved in getting the top score on the Class of 2012 International Awareness Test. But it was certainly no fluke that Bates correctly answered an impressive 39 out of 40 questions.
|Kelvin Bates had the top score in the International Awareness Test for first year students.|
“A few of my correct answers were guesses. When you get up there at 38 or 39 right, any one could go for you or against you,” he conceded, referring to the fact that about five students were right behind him with a 38.
Davidson’s Dean Rusk International Studies Program has administered the test to all incoming students for the past 25 years. It helps students gauge their level of global literacy, and introduces them to resources at Davidson to learn about international affairs. The multiple choice test included questions about population, world leaders, national culture, and geography. Students had to identify the leaders of the United Nations, Great Britain, Afghanistan and China. They were asked which is the most populous country in Latin America, and what organization governs the Gaza Strip.
Bates wasn’t sure which question he missed. Students took the test online and received their scores immediately upon completion. But in the rush of activities, he neglected to check his results. Reviewing the questions three weeks later, he said he might have missed the one about the length of the term for presidency of the Council of European Union (six months). He’s fairly certain, though, that he correctly named all eight of the unidentified countries on the map portion of the quiz. “Geography was my first academic passion,” said Bates, a Seattle native. “When I was in fifth grade, I finished second in the geography bee to an eighth grader who went on to win the national title. I also got pretty good at drawing freehand maps of the world.”
Bates also has a longstanding interest in international affairs. His father set a positive example by thoroughly reading the local paper every morning at the breakfast table. During Bates’ final year at Lakeside School he helped create an international politics group. It was a good effort, but now he realizes it didn’t compare with the International Politics course he’s taking this semester from Davidson Professor of Political Science Lou Ortmayer. “I love the course,” he said. “I’m really into international politics now.”
Bates is a regular reader of “The Economist” magazine, and online news from the BBC and CNN.
His first travel abroad came as an eighth grader. One of his school’s annual courses was an in-depth year-long study of a country, culminating in a trip to that country. “My year it was Vietnam,” Bates said. “It was a wonderful trip because by the time we got there we knew so much about the history and culture, and could even speak some rudimentary phrases.”
Following his sophomore year in high school he conducted a month-long home stay in the Dominican Republic, and last summer he traveled to Europe for three weeks with a friend. He definitely intends to study abroad while at Davidson, but is wrestling with whether to return to a Spanish-speaking country, or explore his familial roots in the British isles.
Though Davidson isn’t a household word in Washington state, Bates heeded the recommendation of a high school counselor and made a visit to the college. He was also accepted at Harvard, but chose Davidson largely because of his perception that Davidson more avidly encourages students to study abroad. “When May 1 came along and I needed to make a decision between Harvard and Davidson, one of the huge factors was how easy it is at Davidson to study abroad,” he said. “They make it easy for you to keep up your studies and not be penalized for missing an on-campus semester.”
In addition to his attraction to international affairs, Bates is an accomplished performance artist. He studied classical piano and ended up playing keyboards for a Pearl Jam-inspired rock band in Seattle that wrote and recorded almost two dozen original songs. He also began singing in theatre musicals during his final two yeas in high school, and plans to participate in Davidson productions. “I auditioned for the fall play, but didn’t make it,” he said. “It’s probably good, though, so I can ease into school rather than getting involved in such a big project so quickly. But I’ll definitely be doing plays here later.”
|Anna Marie Smith '09 and Professor of French Catherine Slawy-Sutton were among the teams of people who followed up on the test by talking withfreshman halls about international study and campus resources for leaning about other nations. |
Bates' prize for winning the International Awareness Test is a $25 gift card to Summit Coffee, which was much appreciated by this aficionado of Seattle coffee houses.
Bates was surprised that many of his first-year colleagues scored far lower. “I’ve heard statistics about how many people can’t point out Iraq on a map, and have never understood it,” he said. “It seems so necessary to be informed about the world if you ever want to make decisions about politics and economics.”
For example, just 15 percent of respondents correctly answered that Canada is the nation’s largest trading partner (most said it was China), and only 25 percent knew that Indonesia is the world leader in Muslim residents (most said Saudi Arabia). About 50 percent associated Hamid Karzai with Syria instead of Afghanistan.
Chris Alexander, the McGee Director of the Dean Rusk International Studies Program at Davidson, said the average test score each year is consistently in the high 50s (when extrapolated to a 100 point scale). “Even though many incoming students have traveled abroad already, one of the points we try to make with this test is that there’s a difference between a tourist experience and global literacy,” said Alexander. He noted that 56 percent of the members of the Class of 2012 reported on a survey that accompanied the test that they had traveled outside the U.S. three or more times. Ninety-five percent said they intend to study abroad during their Davidson careers.
The Rusk Program defines global literacy as “The ability to collect, analyze, and communicate complex material and ideas in another cultural environment and to interact with people whose priorities, values, and work habits may differ from your own.”
Alexander continued, “It’s the difference between the Golden Rule and the Platinum Rule. The Golden Rule asks us to treat others as we would want them to treat us. The Platinum Rule asks us to treat others as they would treat themselves. The former suggests that we should treat others according to our values. The latter requires us to understand someone else’s values well enough to know how they would treat themselves or other members of their family and community.”
As a follow-up to the test, the Rusk Program arranges for a faculty member and a student to visit each hall of first-year students to review the test score, talk about the importance of global literacy in Davidson’s liberal arts curriculum, and review international education opportunities here.
The reviewers note that more than 80 percent of Davidson students have an international experience during their college careers, and that the Dean Rusk Program provides about $150,000 a year in grants for student travel abroad. Opportunities for campus investigation of international literacy include involvement with the several international organizations for students, weekly “tea time” discussions of issues, and an extensive calendar of speakers on a wide range of issues and areas of the world.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.
Posted By: Bill Giduz