Pro Deo et Patria

Water Ways

Ashley Clevenger looked at the reflections of a hundred colored spinning pinwheels and saw in the rippling waters a mirror to an earlier time. 

The junior exercise physiology major was standing in Zhouzhuang, a river town about a half-hour drive from the University of Dayton China Institute in Suzhou Industrial Park.

In Suzhou, glass skyscrapers rise from the lakeside, while multiple lanes of traffic rush across bridges linking the ultramodern city with the countryside. 

In the river town, ancient stone buildings flank waterways on which citizens navigate pole-propelled boats as they head to work, to market or to meet a friend for tea.

How quickly one can go from present and future to past, all along China’s Grand Canal.

This was one of the lessons sociology professor Dan Curran wanted Clevenger and her fellow River Steward classmates to consider during their summer study abroad in China. The University president emeritus, along with Rivers Institute Director Leslie King and China Institute Dean Weiping Wang, guided the nine students during their summer studies. It was an opportunity for a comparative study of water use, protections and policies in China and in Dayton, where the Stewards are known for their community-based approach to water education and action.

With the China Institute as their base, the students learned about both ancient and modern Suzhou and how it has developed thanks to the canal that winds through its borders. They also traveled across eastern China, visiting both ends of the Grand Canal — Beijing in the north and Hangzhou in the south — as well as other pivotal water sites, including the famed Three Gorges Dam.

Junior sociology major Emily McAlesse talked about their float through the gorge on the Yangtze River and of watching monkeys run wild and goats trek up cliff faces.

“The beauty of this place is something that can never be captured in pictures,” she said.

Curran, whose academic study of China spans more than three decades, had been to the gorge before some of the villages were submerged under a hundred feet of water as it rose behind the world’s largest dam. But still, he said, the perspective of the Stewards changed his perspective on the dam and the course. An engineering major shared his views on the construction of the dam, while a geology student provided a lesson on rock formations and how using the tree line — the altitude of a mountain beyond which trees rarely grow — can reveal the extent of the river’s rise.

“It was an advantage having multiple sets of eyes looking at the landscape from multiple perspectives,” Curran said. “They look and said what was of interest to them, and they shared what would be of interest to other students who will follow them.”

Back on UD’s campus, the Stewards continued to find themselves immersed in China’s waterways. They served as ambassadors for Heritage Today: The Grand Canal of China, a multimedia exhibit. The exhibit was part of a larger Grand Canal project, led by the China Institute, to reclaim moments of history while also revealing the voices and experiences of the people who currently live along the canal. It includes vast data collection, photos, videos, oral histories, reproductions of ancient paintings, and the development of an interactive website that will make the data available to scholars in both Chinese and English.

The multimedia database of living cultural heritage will also allow users to contribute their own data and stories to the site, said Wang, who has a particular interest in bridging academics with ordinary people and merging history with present-day practice.

“The project is not just for academics, it’s not just for scholars; it’s for the community,” Wang said.

Created in partnership with Nanjing University, Nanjing University for the Arts, Tsinghua University and Nanjing Museum, one of China’s largest museums, the Grand Canal project reflects a historical and cultural contribution that sets UD apart from other American universities, Curran said. The project’s first phase, including the interactive database, is expected to be complete in 2018.

Teach Beyond
  • At UD, students aren't the only ones who expand their horizons. The China Institute offers faculty a transformative experience that allows them to grow personally and professionally. Faculty from any university are invited to teach adventurous learners from around the world — and immerse themselves in China's rich culture.

Are you interested in teaching, serving as a visiting scholar at one of our partner institutions or participating in a professional development opportunity at the China Institute? Our facility provides numerous opportunities for faculty from any university to expand their educational and professional horizons. 

The China Institute offers year-round teaching opportunities and delivers continuing education and executive training to partnering corporations in and around Suzhou Industrial Park. We also provide research and development expertise to companies in China through sponsored research contracts and projects in the Innovation Center.

If you are interested in teaching at the China Institute, please fill out the UD Faculty Interest Form or Non-UD Faculty Interest Form.

Connecting through Water
  • By: Maddie Norman

    The Grand Canal is so long, we flew from one end to see the other. It begins in Beijing, where we saw a stagnant body of water walled in by stone upstaged by the bustle of Tiananmen Square. It ends in Hangzhou, where smaller waterways branch off among neighborhoods and people still travel and trade by water.

    The Grand Canal, which became unified during the Sui dynasty of the seventh century, is the longest canal in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was originally built to connect the emperor’s city to others for trading and communication. Cities along its more than 1,100 miles have recently become tourist destinations, bringing business to its residents. Just north of Hangzhou, where the canal meets the Yangtze River, the waterway runs wide and barges still haul coal and other goods.

    As River Stewards, our mission is to educate the community about the importance of our watershed and natural resources. When we went to China, we wanted to observe the Grand Canal at several locations to see how the people there interact with their water systems and resources and compare that to what we see in Dayton.

    Chinese people have developed a unique and beautiful relationship with the canal, building water towns along the edges. In Old Suzhou, which has been called the Venice of the East, its residents hang laundry from lines above the waterways and vendors serve stinky tofu. To connect with the water, its citizens just open their doors or sit along their terraces. Old Suzhou is also a popular tourist destination. When you take a ride in an old-fashioned gondola-shaped boat, you can hear the people singing ancient songs and observe diners sitting in cafes under the light of red lanterns.

    In Dayton, we have a very different relationship with the Great Miami River. Much of the shoreline is paved with bike trails and public parks, as well as business and industry. People must travel from their homes to experience all that the river has to offer. As a River Steward, I strive to connect the residents of Dayton with their aquatic neighborhood by providing opportunities to paddle, learn and grow.

    As Stewards, we explain the history of our watershed through exhibits in the RiverMobile. So we were excited to learn about a special project at the University of Dayton China Institute in Suzhou, which is along the Grand Canal. Chen Jing, a professor at Nanjing University teaching at the China Institute, is working with UD and other universities to preserve and display the history of the Grand Canal. She showed us ancient maps of the canal that had been painted onto scrolls. CJ and her photographers recreated these maps with current photographs of the sites to demonstrate the development and modernization of China’s cities. I’m excited we’ll get to help with this interactive presentation to be featured on campus in Roesch Library this October. It’s one of the ways we can bring the lessons we learned back from China to share.

Moving Beyond
  • 1. Partner with U.S. and international universities, as well as multinational companies, to expose students to the future of innovation.

  • 2. Create opportunities to engage prospective and current students, faculty, staff, alumni and donors.

  • 3. Offer profound growth for students – not to mention internships, grants and jobs.

  • 4. Emphasize accessibility; UD students study for a semester at no additional cost, scholarships are available to non-UD students, and specialized rates are available for students from partner institutions.
Moving Beyond Study Abroad

With more students seeking out study abroad programs in China, the University of Dayton has created an international center to accommodate their adventurous ambitions: the China Institute.

Located in the ultramodern Suzhou Industrial Park, which is also home to one-third of the world’s Fortune 500 companies, the China Institute offers a familiar mix of Eastern and Western cultures. Yet it’s just across the lake from the 2,000-year-old city of Suzhou.

“At the China Institute, we’re helping students become fluent in tomorrow,” said Jason Reinoehl, vice president for strategic enrollment management. “Our high-tech classrooms, embedded experiential experiences and comprehensive student life programs make the China Institute the perfect education setting for expanding global and intercultural learning.”

Through the partnerships the China Institute has cultivated, students engage in a truly immersive education.

“The China Institute has developed partnerships with other universities in China such as Nanjing University, which includes bringing in exceptionally talented professors to teach in their specialty at the Institute,” said communication lecturer Cassandra Secrease. “Working alongside these folks is inspiring; they enrich the experience.” 

Students can also engage in experiential learning opportunities, conduct projects and learn alongside industry experts from Fortune 500 and multinational corporations. It’s an experience that strengthens résumés and helps students confidently compete in a global marketplace. 

“As a business major, going to China just makes sense,” said Julia Kokenge. “Not only do you have the chance to further your personal development by expanding your horizons, but you also get to exploit numerous professional prospects including onsite visits with some of the world’s Fortune 500 companies.”

In summer 2017, the University teamed up with Fuyao Glass America to offer a new course utilizing sociology, political science and economics to study the effect of China’s growth on its waterways, and included a three-week tour to examine key waterways first hand.

“Our goal was to create a unique academic experience in this critically important area of study for both countries,” said president emeritus Daniel J.  Curran, who taught the course. “It was an advantage having multiple sets of eyes looking at the landscape from multiple perspectives.”

 In today’s increasingly interconnected world, it’s important for students to have international experience and develop the skills to be competitive in the global marketplace. To help close the gap on access to global learning opportunities, the University of Dayton offers its students the opportunity to study at the China Institute for the same cost as a semester on campus. In addition, the University partnered with Diversity Abroad to offer students nationwide scholarships to study at the China Institute. Each semester, we offer one full scholarship and four scholarships worth $20,000.

“It’s uncommon for a University of our size to have an international center with such strong relationships to multinational companies and professors in the areas of innovation, product development and education,” said Eric Spina, president. “We are breaking the traditional model of education abroad in a way that is accessible and affordable to any student.”
Presidential Viewpoints

Long before he came to the University of Dayton to serve as its president from 2002 to 2016, Dan Curran remembers having a debate with a fellow administrator.

“He told me,” Curran recalled, “that Russia was the place to go. I said, ‘China. It’s growing. It’s having the industrial revolution in a condensed period of time.’”

In 1985, Curran himself went to China. And he has been going back time after time after time. Today, he is president emeritus and serves as executive in residence for Asian affairs at the University of Dayton China Institute, founded in 2012 and located in Suzhou Industrial Park.

The Facility

When it opened, the five-floor, 68,000 square-foot China Institute was the first American school in the Suzhou Industrial Park. In 2016, the University was able to purchase the building with support of a $7 million gift from Fuyao Glass America.

“We are the only university in the park to own its own building,” said Eric Spinacurrent University of Dayton president. “With state-of-the-art space for classrooms, meeting rooms and maker space, it rivals anything else in the park. And we have a special relationship with the people running the park that helps us learn of opportunities for grants, to see up-close the desire of people there to connect the U.S. and China.”


During the 2017 fall term, Spina made his first trip to the China Institute. Both Spina and Curran, who was teaching there when Spina visited, marveled at the experiences students were having.

The student body at the University of Dayton China Institute is approximately half American and half Chinese. The Chinese students typically study a semester or two there before studying in the United States.

“It’s an interesting dynamic,” Spina said. “American students don’t know China. Chinese students don’t know America. The Chinese become more proficient in English and learn firsthand about American culture rather than having to rely on mass media. The Americans learn how to get around in China. They learn about food. They form bonds with the Chinese students.”

Getting Around

Since the University of Dayton China Institute opened, American students have been getting out and meeting Chinese people and experiencing Chinese culture. But in the fall 2017 term, Curran said, those experiences “really took off.”

An engineer by training, Spina noted the role technology played in the students' experiences.

“In China,” he said, “everything is on the phone.”

Students wanting a ride can use their phone to describe the destination in English, and a driver for DiDi (a Chinese version of Uber) hears the destination in Chinese.

Also playing a role in American students being able to more easily get out and absorb Chinese culture is the Chinese transportation infrastructure.

A Philadelphia native, Curran lamented that the New York City-Boston train “inches along.” In China, bullet trains ride on modern road beds at speeds well over 100 mph. From Suzhou, Shanghai is a 35-minute trip. Beijing, over 700 miles to the north, can be reached in five hours.

In the City

American students can easily immerse themselves in Chinese culture in Suzhou itself, a city both brand new and millennia old.

When Curran, a sociologist, first started visiting China in the 1980s for research, there was little industry in Suzhou, now a city of more than 4 million people (with a metropolitan area population of more than 10 million). People who came were tourists visiting the city’s beautiful gardens or its city wall, parts of which are 2,000 years old.

Then came what was the largest cooperative agreement between the Chinese and Singaporean governments — the creation of Suzhou Industrial Park.

The name is misleading, Curran said, if one envisions places in the U.S. called industrial parks. He spoke of Suzhou Industrial Park’s cleanliness, its trees, its lake, of taking walks on the promenade around it.

Spina was impressed by its size and speed of growth. He notes one Dayton administrator, who had not been to Suzhou for three years, marveling that where three years ago was an open field now were eight high-rise buildings.

And the University of Dayton China Institute — in the midst of this huge, modern enterprise with completely new infrastructure — is, Curran pointed out, just one subway stop from the old city with its winding streets.

The Neighbors

Suzhou Industrial Park is home to a third of the Fortune 500 companies as well as numerous universities (Oxford and Dayton are a few buildings apart).

Building relationships is an integral part of the University of Dayton China Institute.

Curran started building relationships when he first went to China. The early ones were mostly for research; he got to know a number of people with the Ministry for Public Safety. Meeting the mayor of Suzhou was part of Dayton’s early presence there. (The mayor’s daughter later became an MBA student at the University of Dayton.)

The corporate relationships in Suzhou, Spina noted, are mutually beneficial.

“The companies,” he said, “provide adjunct faculty. And they motivate and frame projects. Students get to work side-by-side with people in multinational corporations who see China both as a marketplace and as a source of skilled labor. Students see China’s economic development at a grassroots level.” 

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