When Mark Hansen ’79 was growing up in Poughkeepsie, New York, he longed to live abroad. Born in England to American parents who brought the family to the United States when he was six, he started his journey back overseas as a Cornell undergraduate. The experiences and people he encountered on the Hill jumpstarted his international life.
This wouldn’t have been possible without the scholarships and work study awards that he received from Cornell, says Hansen, managing director of the Asian Leadership Institute, an executive coaching organization. Hansen also is a pro bono psychotherapist with a community mental health center, part of a late-career pivot he made to pay forward similar services he received at Cornell.
“Cornell’s support gave me a sense of needing to pay it forward. I was fortunate to get this financial support,” he says. “The university was very generous with assistance.”
Hansen, who has lived in Singapore for over 30 years, is one of a team of five senior alumni across Asia who founded Cornell Asia Alumni Leadership Advisors (CAALA). They help plant Cornell flags in the region, connecting alumni to campus by mentoring regional club leaders and helping alumni establish new clubs in their countries. CAALA supports alumni relations and development efforts in a region that spans India to Australia to Japan. The volunteer leadership in many of these clubs has now transitioned from expatriates to a younger set of local alumni.
Part of that effort is the annual Asia Pacific Leadership Conference, now in its 15th year. The hallmark event brings together Asia-based alumni from over a dozen countries with university administrators and faculty—to connect with Cornell and share best practices among volunteer leaders.
“It’s a point of pride in terms of building the Cornell brand and connecting Asia alumni with university leaders,” Hansen says. “We’re a long way from Ithaca. Many Asia alumni don’t get a chance to go back to Cornell, so we bring Cornell to them.”
CAALA also is building a culture of giving back to the university, communicating the importance of giving participation and leading by example by offering a Cornell Giving Day donation match. (“We’ve always exceeded it,” he says.)
Hansen has given back to Cornell in other areas as well. Since the late 1980s, he has been a member of the Cornell Alumni Advisory Ambassadors Network. He is a life member of the Cornell University Council and a member since 2006, serving on the international programs committee for three years. He also served two terms on the Cornell Alumni Advisory Board and was an alumni trustee candidate.
It was at Cornell that Hansen’s life-changing desire to experience cultures different from his own took root: He would meet with Chinese students who gathered at his landlady’s house (she was a founder of the U.S. China People’s Friendship Association), and for a summer he lived with Korean graduate students. His research work with professor Peter J. Katzenstein focused on international political economy issues. He studied multiple languages while at Cornell, including Chinese, Russian, and Ukrainian, and spent a year as coordinator of Cornell’s Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations.
Hansen returns to Ithaca every year—in the fall, when the leaves are turning—for Cornell University Council meetings. He treasures the friendships he has developed with alumni all over the world.
“I’ve developed a whole new set of friends, and I really mean friends,” he says. “That came about because we’re all working for the same cause—supporting students, supporting admissions, and promoting Cornell.”
Written by Sally Parker, freelance writer