Educational exchanges with China prove fruitful
Most Americans know that Chinese companies have become major players in the worldwide economy. The corporate world, however, isn’t the only area in which China’s ambition and global interest are making waves — a recent report revealed that China is now the number one source for international students studying in the U.S. And with 29 million students enrolled in higher education in China, the opportunities for international collaboration will likely only grow.
Minnesota private colleges are no strangers to Chinese colleges and universities, with some institutions forging new partnerships and others building on decades-old relationships. Below are examples from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University and a multi-institution partnership with United International College.
Designing global partnerships
For Jay Coogan, president of Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), China’s emergence as a collaborator in higher education endeavors is no surprise. Though he’s been president at MCAD for slightly more than a year, he spent his last eight years at the Rhode Island School of Design building international relationships, he said; those experiences made him prioritize developing similar partnerships at MCAD.
A recent trip to China this October was especially fruitful for Coogan, as it yielded three new collaboration agreements between MCAD and Chinese art and design schools. The Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing is one new collaborator. Coogan attended and spoke at a conference there on the future of art education and design, along with representatives from ten other institutions from Asia and Europe. The conference ended with the institutions signing an accord documenting an intention to work together.
Other schools with which MCAD signed agreements were the Luxun Academy of Fine Art (with campuses in Shengyang and Dalian) and the Shanghai College of Art.
Finally, MCAD is exploring collaboration with the Shang Yuan Art Museum and Artists Residency Program, located outside Beijing. The group sent three emerging artists to speak at MCAD this fall, Coogan said; in the future, he sees MCAD faculty and graduates possibly spending time there.
In China, there is a strong demand for pre-professional design programs. "Design is definitely something that many people want to study there. They are proud of their heritage, their thousands of years of artistry, and they see creativity as important economically," he said.
Consider the example of a Chinese art school where 64,000 applicants recently applied for 2,000 openings. "The number of students seeking degrees is enormous, which is potentially beneficial because you have a huge surplus of phenomenally qualified students who could study in the U.S. if they wanted," he said.
There are four students from China (and Taiwan) currently studying to receive MCAD degrees. In the future, Coogan would like to bring Chinese art and design professors to MCAD to teach; he is also planning an opportunity for an MCAD faculty member and students to study art and design in China.
"It’s important that our students experience Chinese culture, and see what Chinese art and design students are doing, because they are creating some fantastic work," he said. "I suppose you could see them as a formidable opponent, but I’d like to see them as wonderful partners."
The chemistry of international friendships
For College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University (CSB/SJU) chemistry professor Henry Jakubowski, an interest in the history of science and medicine led him to China. After a faculty development program gave him the chance to visit the country in 1997, Jakubowski began considering ways his science students, who were rarely able to fit study abroad into their tight schedules, could make such a trip.
"The germ of an idea developed in my mind that it would be great if we could set up some sort of exchange that would also involve research," he said. Jakubowski said the combination of research and studying abroad interested him because those experiences are often cited by students as the most meaningful aspects of their undergraduate career.
In 2004, Jakubowski again went to China to lead CSB/SJU’s fall study abroad program at Southwest University (SWU) in Beibei, an institution with which CSB/SJU had had a partnership since 1985. He started planning the Summer Science Exchange Program at that time; it began in 2006.
The program is designed to take five to 10 students to SWU in mid-May, where they partner with Chinese students and do research for six weeks, under the supervision of a SWU professor. Then, the students and their Chinese partners come to Minnesota for another six weeks of research.
Though the research aspect is novel, especially for undergraduates in China, Jakubowski said the program also has other benefits. "This program offers the chance for interpersonal relationships in a way that is quite unique," he said. "It’s an opportunity for students to mentor other students while they are in their home country and to learn a new culture when they’re abroad. I’ve had students say the program changed their lives."
Jakubowski had always wanted the program to expand beyond the sciences, and in recent years, it has, encompassing arts, humanities and social sciences. In May 2010, while visiting China, he was surprised when the vice chancellor of Southwest University decided to give him a special honor — the title of visiting professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at SWU. Jakubowski was honored by the gesture and will likely return to China to teach. Meanwhile, his Summer Exchange Program is being replicated by other colleges; at CSB/SJU, a grant will allow the program to one day be replicated in India and Japan.
Focusing on liberal arts in China
This November, 12 representatives from the Minnesota Private College Council (MPCC) member institutions returned from the fourth annual MPCC-United International College (UIC) Presidential Lecture Series and the Sino-American Conference on Liberal Arts Education. The group traveled to Hong Kong and Zhuhai, a coastal city in southern China, where UIC is located.
Representatives from four MPCC institutions — Augsburg College, Concordia College, Gustavus Adolphus College and Bethany Lutheran College — were in attendance. The College of St. Scholastica and Hamline University are also members of the consortium. In addition, Concordia University, St. Paul is exploring the UIC consortium and sent a representative on the trip. The UIC collaboration involves students from both countries studying abroad, faculty from MPCC institution visiting and teaching at UIC and MPCC graduates traveling to UIC to serve as teaching assistants.
Gustavus Adolphus College President Jack Ohle and Bethany Lutheran College President Dan Bruss each gave lectures at the event, which focused on liberal arts education. Ohle’s lecture was titled "The Importance of Internationalism in the Liberal Arts" while Bruss spoke about "Faculty and Student Professional Development in the Liberal Arts." MPCC President Paul Cerkvenik gave opening remarks at the conference.
The partnership with UIC represents many firsts, Cerkvenik noted. UIC is the first fully-sanctioned liberal arts college to be created in China in more than 50 years, and the agreement reached with MPCC is the first UIC reached with any American college or group of colleges. "What I saw at UIC is a very serious interest in bringing a true liberal arts curriculum into higher education in China. It is a ground-breaking development for them," he said. "It is also clear that the relationship with MPCC schools is a high priority for them."
The economic boom in China combined with the one child policy has created a middle class that is willing and able to pay for their children’s higher education, Cerkvenik noted. Families value both education and international study opportunities for their children. In addition, the country is investing greatly in its universities, and emphasizing internationalism. As American students also seek opportunities to study abroad in China, there is a natural opportunity to collaborate.
"The combination of these factors leads me to believe that MPCC schools have a significant opportunity in higher education in China, especially in the formation of a liberal arts curriculum there," he said.