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A longstanding relationship

1:38 PM  Oct 2nd, 2012
by Teri Rizvi

Scott Segalewitz knows only a few words in Mandarin, but he’s taken one to heart — “guanxi.”

Loosely translated, guanxi means connections. “In China, it’s all about relationships,” says Segalewitz, professor and former chair of UD’s engineering technology program.

In 2006, Segalewitz helped start what’s become the University of Dayton’s longest-running partnership in China, one that set the stage for the University’s growing footprint in a country on the economic rise across the globe.

A select number of engineering students at Shanghai Normal University, which enrolls triple the number of full-time students as the University of Dayton, study for three years at the Fengxian campus that sits on the edge of a picturesque lake. For their final year, they transfer to UD’s largely residential campus in the heart of the American Midwest.

Many have never stepped foot on American soil before, and they’re not used to living in a city that’s a sliver of the size of Shanghai. They take intensive courses in communication and English composition in the summer before starting classes in the fall in either electronic or manufacturing technology.

At the end of their year, they earn diplomas from Shanghai Normal and the University of Dayton — and a greater shot at the top engineering jobs in their own country, where many now work for multinational companies like Mitsubishi and Exxon.

That’s what inspired Yongxu Shen, who’s adopted the American name “Cecilia,” to trade life in arguably one of the fastest-developing cities in the world for a year on a Catholic campus that prides itself as much for its welcoming atmosphere as for its engineering school’s reputation.

“I’m a little nervous,” Cecilia concedes during Segalewitz’s orientation class in early August. “I’ve never been outside China, but I want to improve my knowledge of the language. I want the experience.”

Classmate Wei “Harry” Zhang says he’s impressed with the engineering labs. “We took a tour, and they’re more modern. I want to learn more about American technology.”

On this humid summer day, just three weeks before thousands of University of Dayton students move back to campus, 20 students listen intently to Segalewitz as he talks about the importance of professional ethics. But first, he gives them a little fatherly advice.

“I always tell my students that if you’re doing something your mother wouldn’t approve, it’s probably not right,” he says to start off his midday class. “We need to treat people fairly. It doesn’t matter where we come from. Ethics is about doing what is right.”

Segalewitz launches into an animated lecture that ranges from amusing stories about the Pirate Code of Conduct to candid observations of unethical behavior of athletes at the London Olympics to a more serious viewing of a video showing one of the greatest engineering disasters of all time — the July 17, 1981, collapse of a suspended skywalk at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City.

Segalewitz had no experience teaching a roomful of international students before UD launched the joint degree program, but he’s developed a comfort level and a rapport with the students, many of whom he taught in China during a faculty exchange. “Their conversational English is very good, but their technical English tends to be what we stress,” he notes. “We go over to China to teach to give them an ear for the technical language.”

While not all professors travel to other countries to teach, many have students from abroad in their classes. That’s why Segalewitz gave his faculty a 593-page cultural handbook, Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than 60 Countries.

Now that Segalewitz has stepped down as chair of the engineering technology department, he’s turning his attention to teaching and helping Phil Doepker ’67, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, coordinate industrial and technical relations at the newly opened University of Dayton China Institute. They’re working closely with multinational companies in Suzhou Industrial Park to develop research projects and courses.

“Engineering doesn’t just happen in Dayton, Ohio,” he says. “It’s a worldwide profession. The more experience we give our students — international and American — the more marketable they’ll be.”

Xujun “Daniel” Peng agrees: “This year will change my life.”

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View related stories from the Autumn 2012 issue:

A firsthand experience

At home in China

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