Thursday June 22, 2006

First Glimpse

The University of Dayton welcomes a dozen Chinese students. Their first glimpse of America includes summer classes, hamburgers and frisbees.

A dozen Chinese students arrived on the University of Dayton's campus this month to finish the final year of engineering technology -- and discover if American college life mirrors what they've seen in movies. Some had never flown on an airplane before, and all stepped foot in the country for the first time when they landed in Chicago.

"We want to see how American people study in college. We're very curious about that," said Zhuojun "Daisy" Tao, 22, before slipping into a communication class. "We're very young. We should take a tour to the other world and learn what we can from each other."

These students are part of a partnership with Shanghai Normal University, which enrolls 43,000 students, including 2,000 engineering majors. They study for three years in Shanghai and one year at the University of Dayton and earn a UD degree. Thanks to a $50,000 gift from UD alumnus Johnson Chen, the students received a $3,000 scholarship to help defray the cost of getting a jump start on their senior year. They're taking intensive courses in communication and English composition before starting classes in either electronic or manufacturing technology.

"I always wanted to give something back to a great institution such as UD where I had the opportunity of obtaining my higher education in the '70s. And I found this to be an excellent program to promote the academic and cultural exchanges between the two countries. The timing could not be more perfect for me to help those who need it," said Chen, who earned a bachelor's in mechanical engineering and an MBA from UD.

For the summer, the students are living in the Garden Apartments on campus. In the fall, the building will be transformed into an "international learning community." Students from China, France, Italy and Saudi Arabia will live with American roommates, who will serve as cultural hosts while they all learn what it takes to be successful in today's global society.

"We're off to a great start," said Amy Anderson, director of UD's Center for International Programs. "Faculty members met the students at the airport. UD students threw a barbecue for them. They ate hot dogs and hamburgers, threw Frisbees and chatted. We're trying to transition them into American culture. Families have volunteered to host the students on the Fourth of July, for example, and we're planning a camping weekend in the fall."

In the first week, students rode the bus to an Asian market to buy special ingredients for meals, experienced sticker shock over the price of college textbooks and worked on "speaking and thinking in English" in their classes.

"People are very friendly, and it's a beautiful campus," said Renyuan "Rita" Hua, 21.

Under University of Dayton President Daniel J. Curran's leadership, the University is pursuing partnerships and strong ties with top universities in China. In the spring, officials from UD and Nanjing University, one of the leading research universities in China, signed two agreements. One details a proposed student exchange program and the other outlinines academic exchange and collaboration opportunities. These include a proposed summer study abroad program, faculty exchanges and joint graduate-level degrees. Nanjing University is proposing an undergraduate transfer program in electrical and computer engineering. Students would complete the first two years at Nanjing and the final two years at UD.

The two universities have pledged to work together to develop educational programs for employees of companies in the Suzhou Industrial Park, one of China's fastest-growing development zones. The two universities will discuss the possibility and details of establishing a formal research-and-development center in the future, according to the agreement.

UD and several corporations, such as NCR and JC Penney, have created a program to bring Chinese executives to Dayton to earn an MBA during the academic year while working in corporate headquarters during the summer. In addition, UD has signed agreements with Macao University of Science and Technology and China Jiliang University to allow students to complete part of their coursework in China, then transfer to UD for degrees in such fields as computer science, electro-optics and materials engineering.

The China initiative is significant because it represents UD's first major recruiting effort in Asia, where China is one of the largest exporters of foreign students to the United States. China's higher education needs are enormous: The number of college students has more than quadrupled from 3.4 million in 1998 to 16 million today, and officials say they want to double the percentage of college students to 40 percent by 2020, according to a May 19 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The initiative also represents an effort to create a multicultural environment on campus and expand study abroad opportunities. A group of UD students and faculty returned from a summer study abroad program in Shanghai where they met the Shanghai Normal University students and faculty. "Now that we've opened the pipeline, it will grow," Anderson said.

Contact Amy Anderson at 937-229-4413.