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Carnegie Mellon joins popular trend of US, China universities partnering

Jimmy Zhu, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University

Jimmy Zhu, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University

By Debra Erdley

It’s been three decades since Jimmy Zhu came to the United States as a student from China. Back then, Zhu was one of the few. Today, China leads the world in sending students to U.S. universities.

Zhu, now an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, is helping export CMU’s engineering prowess to China as co-director of a new graduate school: the Joint Institute of Engineering at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. CMU is hiring faculty and exporting its curriculum to the new school, which will enroll its first class this fall.

Meanwhile, officials at University of Pittsburgh’s School of Engineering are preparing to start an undergraduate program in engineering at Sichuan University in 2014. Pitt’s medical school is partnering with Tsinghua University in Beijing to accept 25 to 45 biomedical researchers every year for two years of training here as visiting scholars.

Jacqueline Chen, a recent CMU graduate who came here from China, celebrates such partnerships.

“We want to introduce Pittsburgh to the world,” said Chen, who will chair Carnegie Mellon’s second annual summit on U.S.-China Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Carnegie Mellon’s Chinese Student and Scholar Association sponsors the international summit, which will bring 1,000 students, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and policymakers to Pittsburgh on April 27-28.

The event emphasizes shared values over cultural divides. It attracted coverage from China Central Television last year.

Cash-strapped universities faced with dwindling government support increasingly are looking East. Pitt and CMU are among five universities — the others are Duke University, the University of Michigan and New York University — starting partnerships in China.
They follow a decade in which the number of Chinese students studying in U.S. universities tripled from 63,211 in 2001-02 to 194,029 in 2011-12, according to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors report.

Officials at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon said their involvement will enhance their standing in the world’s most populous country and pave the way for partnerships with businesses. Pitt officials said Sichuan University will invest $40 million to erect and equip a new building for the Sichuan University Pittsburgh Institute. Scheduled to open in 2014, it will adopt Pitt’s engineering curriculum, and Pitt will recruit faculty.

“It’s not designed to provide direct financial benefits (to Pitt),” said Larry Feick, Pitt senior director of international programs. “We expect to enroll 1,600 students (in Sichuan), and up to a quarter of those will transfer to Pitt to get a double degree.”

Carnegie Mellon will focus strictly on graduate education at Sun Yat-sen. Classes in both institutes will be taught in English. Zhu said Sun Yat-sen, located in the midst of a major enterprise zone in southern China about two hours from Hong Kong, has no engineering program.

“Two years ago a new university president at Sun Yat-sen decided his legacy would be an engineering school he would build,” Zhu said.

The school is erecting one building for the engineering institute; another nearby will be a research and innovation center. Students will spend one semester at Carnegie Mellon in Oakland or the Silicon Valley. The institute intends to start a doctoral program.

“China has had various programs to reverse its brain drain. With this school I think we can do something significant,” Zhu said.

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