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At home in China

1:39 PM  Oct 2nd, 2012
by Teri Rizvi

UD celebrates opening of China Institute

As the University of Dayton China Institute delegation’s tour bus snaked through the quiet Sunday-morning streets of Nanjing, another bus appeared beside it.

From the neighboring bus, Kurt Jackson leaped up out of his seat, pointed excitedly to his University of Dayton physical therapy shirt and waved with a big grin. What are the chances of running into a bus carrying seven doctor of physical therapy students and their professor from a campus on the other side of the world?

Nothing spoke more tellingly of the University of Dayton’s growing presence in China than that singular moment.

“We hadn’t seen any American people and happen to see you drive past us. It’s crazy,” said Andrew Lengerich of Cincinnati, who had spent nearly a week in August at Nanjing Medical University learning about acupuncture and other therapy techniques.

Just a few days earlier in a part of eastern China that was rice fields and farmland less than two decades ago, the University of Dayton opened a stand-alone center in the ultra-modern Suzhou Industrial Park. A typhoon had lashed eastern China earlier in the day, but all-day heavy rains and high winds could not deflate the day’s spirit.

As faculty, staff and students ducked out of the relentless rain and into the newly renovated University of Dayton China Institute, they pulled out cell phone cameras to capture shots of each other in front of the lobby’s bilingual sign.

“This is quite a theatrical backdrop for the opening, just a little drama,” said Tim Pelling, a freelance photographer who caught the last train that morning out of Shanghai to Suzhou before the weather halted service.

Later, music faculty and students teamed with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, artists-in-residence on campus, in a dedication concert at nearby Dushu Lake Theater that drew 400 people. The final movement of George Gershwin’s lilting “Rhapsody in Blue” filled the theater after music professor and concert pianist Eric Street opened the concert with a string of American ragtime tunes.

Dressed in an elegant red evening gown, Xing Lu, a student from Nanjing University of the Arts, raised the tempo a notch with a jig-inspiring piece on the traditional Chinese erhu, a two-stringed fiddle. With fingers stretched on mallets and her body bobbing between octaves, percussionist and junior Becky Welch coaxed harp-like music from a marimba borrowed from a family in nearby Changshu City who asked for her autograph on the concert’s program.

Senior music major Mitchell McCrady, who started playing the French horn in fifth grade, predicted UD’s Horn Quartet in its first trip to China would “knock their socks off.” With Street on piano, McCrady expressively tackled Franz Strauss’s horn reverie, “Fantasie, Opus 2.”  And in a soaring finale, DCDC reprised “Os padroes,” a piece inspired by the artistry in the painting and sculpture of Willis “Bing” Davis that premiered in Dayton in February. They danced with joyful abandon.

Those moments on stage captured the spirit of the day.

“Today is a celebration,” President Daniel J. Curran told the largely Chinese crowd at the pre-concert grand opening ceremonies, conducted in English and Mandarin and capped with colorful bits of confetti. “There’s an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit in Suzhou Industrial Park that’s unlike any in the world.”

Curran’s ties to China run deep. The grand opening crowd included dozens of Chinese officials and scholars Curran had befriended during 25 years of cultivating research and education ties in a country that fascinates him. As a sociology professor at Saint Joseph’s University, Curran held a professorship at Nanjing University early in his academic career.

“China is such an economic force in the world that we should be here,” he said. “The China Institute is part of a larger globalization strategy that includes increasing our presence in numerous parts of the world. We’re taking a holistic view of international education, and this is one piece.”

Home to a third of the world’s Fortune 500 companies and just 75 miles from the world’s busiest port in Shanghai, the park opened in 1994 as a cooperative venture between the governments of China and Singapore. Nearly two dozen universities from all over the globe have committed to establishing a presence here, but the University of Dayton is the first American one.

First impressions

“It’s like Disneyland. It’s a corporate theme park,” said Devon Schreiber, a 22-year-old MBA student from Cleveland when she caught her first glimpse of Suzhou Industrial Park. Row upon row of high-rise apartments, gleaming corporate buildings, a street full of banks, elegant hotels, natural lakes — even a Ferris wheel — popped before her eyes as the tour bus wound through miles of a landscaped oasis on the modern outskirts of the ancient city of Suzhou.

Others in the UD grand opening delegation had similar reactions. “When people in the U.S. say ‘industrial park,’ they’re thinking low-slung aluminum buildings in a farm field. Here, they’ve literally built a city from scratch,” said Ted Bucaro, UD director of government and regional relations, who helped organize the China Institute ceremony.

Former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, who now teaches on UD’s campus, said he was taken aback by the size of the endeavor. “When we compare an industrial park in Ohio to this, it’s just a postage stamp. This is unreal. It’s built on a superhuman scale. It’s almost like a company town, except it’s a megatown.”

In a section of the park called BioBay, home to 275 high-tech companies, the University of Dayton occupies a five-story, 68,000-square-foot building that’s slightly larger than Miriam Hall. It’s outfitted with eight specialized science and engineering labs, classrooms and space for a Marianist heritage center. Suzhou Industrial Park officials invested millions in the building’s renovation and have waived the rent for three years.

“Engineering students in our Innovation Center on campus have worked with about 120 American industries — many of which are already located in the park — on product development. That’s a model we’re replicating,” Curran said. “This is not about starting an international campus for the University of Dayton. It’s about providing our students with international opportunities few campuses can offer.”

Nearby, the University’s students and faculty will stay in subsidized, furnished apartments as they travel here to work on product development projects or to offer short courses to students and engineers who work for companies like Lilly Suzhou Pharmaceutical Co., Emerson Climate Technologies (Suzhou) Research and Development Co., Marian (Suzhou) Co., Ltd., and Makino (China) Co., Ltd.

In all, UD has signed memoranda of understanding for research and education partnerships with six American-based firms in the park.

In August, before the official grand opening, UD faculty delivered courses in energy-efficient manufacturing, project management, multidisciplinary design, and creative problem solving and decision analysis. The students included 40 employees from partner companies and eight UD students from China living and working in Suzhou.

As the China Institute takes shape, UD is considering offering English classes to Chinese students who want to study in the U.S. and in-service training in theology and philosophy for Catholic priests. Researchers and faculty from partner industries and universities are expected to share lab and office space in the building as the University taps into local expertise to collaborate on product development and teach courses.

Chinese-style capitalism

Elsewhere in Suzhou Industrial Park, workers keep the gardens and lawns
vibrant in the shadows of dozens of construction cranes. The park is a magnet for foreign investment, and multinational companies are flocking to this highly competitive development zone that boasted a gross domestic product of $25.1 billion in 2011 — more than that of a country like Jamaica. With a population of around 700,000, Suzhou Industrial Park remains highly livable, too, without the congestion and smog of Shanghai and Beijing, goliath cities that teem with millions of people.

For first-time visitors, the sprawling 111-square-mile park has a distinctly entrepreneurial feel to it. While the government still owns land, banks and media in the world’s most populous nation, China pundits say this park stands out as a global model of how to transform a once-sleepy, largely rural city into an economic hot spot where public and private investment spark innovation and economic growth.

According to research by Z.H. STUDIO, media and marketing consultants in Beijing who study the Chinese economy,
Suzhou Industrial Park officials envision the park as an up-and-coming Silicon Valley. They’re focused on attracting and retaining talent and creating a culture of innovation.

“China, as a whole, is working to develop an upgraded workforce,” said Zhihua “Stephanie” Yan, a principal at Z.H. STUDIO. “People in Suzhou Industrial Park are working hard to educate and train potential employees for their companies, which are working on new technology that will allow them to compete globally.”

Competitive edge

Company executives in the park told Phil Doepker ’67, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering who coordinates industrial and technical relations at the China Institute, that they’re struggling with a 30 percent employee turnover rate every year because these engineers are highly marketable. “They’re thirsty for our graduates,” he said. “Our message to our graduates, particularly those from China, is this: ‘You can get a top-notch education at the University of Dayton, work in Suzhou in the summers as interns and get a job right after you graduate.’”

According to a May 2012 report from the Institute of International Education, fewer than 4 percent of American engineering students participate in study-abroad programs. STEM graduates, the report concluded, are ill-prepared to “compete in an increasingly borderless marketplace.” The researchers recommended that universities develop “innovative programs to educate, develop and train the next generation of globally competent scientists and engineers.”

Provost Joe Saliba ’79 believes that University of Dayton graduates who’ve worked at the China Institute will stand out among their peers when seeking jobs. “Our students will have a competitive edge over students from other universities. I cannot think of a CEO or top manager in a major American company who doesn’t have global experience,” he said.

Weiping Wang, who’s overseen the University of Dayton’s initiatives in China since 2002 and helped increase enrollment of Chinese students to a record high, now serves as assistant provost and the executive director of the China Institute. She’s a well-connected and respected scholar with educational experience on multiple continents. She has traveled to China with trustees, administrators, faculty and students who are working together to attract projects and create academic offerings through the China Institute. More recently, she collaborated with Doepker and Scott Segalewitz, professor of engineering technology, to offer China-based multinational companies the University’s research and education expertise.

“We believe in starting small, building pilots and building upon that,” Saliba said. “We’re committed to Suzhou being our base in China.”

Pilot projects

Back in Dayton, American, Chinese, Lebanese and Indian students in the School of Engineering’s Innovation Center have already gained experience solving problems for American companies in Suzhou Industrial Park. Negotiating a 12-hour time difference and a Chinese New Year celebration that halted progress for weeks, two teams spent the bulk of spring semester working with two companies.

For Lilly Suzhou Pharmaceutical Co., the students developed sustainability guidelines to reduce energy usage in Suzhou plants.

“If we had a couple people on the site, we could have had the data we needed (to do our calculations) quicker. There was a communication barrier,” said Dan Fink ’12, a mechanical engineering graduate from Cleveland who’s now earning a master’s degree in UD’s clean and renewable energy program.

“If they follow the guidelines, they can reduce energy substantially. I think they’ll benefit from this. It will get some wheels turning,” he said. “Having the opportunity to work with global companies on real-world issues is a great opportunity for undergraduate students. Working with Lilly on energy reduction helped reinforce the importance of efficiency in the manufacturing and business worlds.”

For an Emerson Climate Technologies plant in Suzhou, students worked on an oil separator for a refrigeration system.

The UD team included two Chinese students, who conducted bi-weekly conference calls in Mandarin. Still, the group managed to create only a simulation of how the oil separator should work. “Our biggest challenge was the testing conditions. We needed the actual machine,” said Jun Hou, a computer engineering technology major from Shanghai whose group gave the company three designs for prototyping and testing.

Tony Saliba ’81, dean of the School of Engineering who helped design the labs in the China Institute, said these communication hurdles can be alleviated by students traveling to China and working directly with clients. “We’re simulating the world for our students. In the real world, sometimes you have to deal with a 12-hour time difference with clients, and sometimes you have to visit the site. This allows them to actually come here and work directly with companies. It’s very important for our students to work across the globe.”

In September, three senior engineering students traveled to Suzhou to interview executives at Lilly Suzhou Pharmaceutical Co. about the types of courses its engineers need. This project, part of a capstone course, will help professors design curricula for working professionals.

At the same time, Wang and faculty members are working to develop internships and co-ops at partner companies and launch a six-week summer program in Suzhou, targeted to UD engineering and business students. Students selected for the program, which begins in May, will receive free international airfare and housing in apartments at Suzhou Industrial Park while they earn nine credit hours.

“They will take courses in project management, innovative design and entrepreneurship, and intercultural communications from UD professors,” Wang said. “They will visit our partner companies  — and gain some practical experience in a global environment.  We want both American and Chinese students to
apply for this program and take classes together. That’s why a course in intercultural communication is so important.”

While in China, students will attend seminars on Chinese culture and society, taught in English by professors from Nanjing University and other partner universities, and take cultural tours of Suzhou, Shanghai, Nanjing and other nearby cities.

In the future, Wang envisions UD faculty offering a variety of courses from across disciplines for both UD students desiring to study abroad and prospective students in China who want to continue their college education in Dayton.

It’s all designed to make global learning a hallmark of a UD education, administrators say.

Provost Saliba, who fled war-torn Lebanon without knowing a word of English, earned three degrees from the University of Dayton and rose to its top academic post, is as comfortable chatting with alumni at a gathering in Kuwait as he is discussing curricular reform at a faculty meeting. He expects the next generation of graduates to be comfortable working and living in all time zones.

“I cannot actually imagine a college student graduating without global competencies,” he said.

Then he mused, “If it weren’t for those four Marianists from Alsace-Lorraine who came to Dayton, we wouldn’t have the University of Dayton as we know it today. And if it weren’t for those two brothers from Dayton who invented flight, we wouldn’t be opening this center in China. They have shrunk the world.”


Teri Rizvi, part of a delegation that traveled to China in August, is associate vice president for University communications. She reported from Rome in 1991 when William Joseph Chaminade was beatified. As a freelance journalist, she’s extensively covered life and politics in Pakistan and worked as a London-based correspondent for McGraw-Hill World News and a researcher for ABC News early in her career.

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View related stories from the Autumn 2012 issue:

A firsthand experience

A longstanding relationship

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