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Detroit Mercy partners with prestigious institutions in China for Engineering and Financial Economics education

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August 03, 2017
Victoria Mantzopoulos, associate dean, College of Liberal Arts & Education, Gary Kuleck, former dean, and  Shuvra Das, director of international program, from the College of Engineering & Science, and Chi-Dar Lin, Detroit Mercy’s director of Asian student enrollment programs, stand with future Titans from Anhui Polytechnic University (AHPU).

University of Detroit Mercy is partnering with three prestigious Chinese universities to bring a cohort of students to Detroit this fall. While here, the students will work in Detroit Mercy’s state-of-art labs with renowned faculty, and earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“This gives us a lot of name recognition in China” said Shuvra Das, professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of International Programs for the College of Engineering & Science. “Other schools working with Chinese universities include Rutgers, Michigan, NYU and Duke. In China, we have the same name recognition and stature as those schools.”

The Beijing University of Chemical Technology (BUCT) will send approximately 50 students and Yancheng Institute of Technology (YIT) will send more than 20 students. Anhui Polytechnic University (AHPU) will send more than a dozen.

The BUCT students will study Robotics and Mechatronic Systems, while the YIT students will study Mechanical Engineering. AHPU students will study Financial Economics.

The BUCT program and YIT programs are similar, but have some significant differences tailored to each school’s interests. For both programs, the students will have studied for three years at their home institution in China, before completing the senior year of their undergraduate degrees at Detroit Mercy. AHPU students follow a "2+2" model, meaning they study two years in China and two years at Detroit Mercy.

For BUCT students and AHPU students, Detroit Mercy faculty have been traveling to China to teach some of the courses in the program, and those students will earn Detroit Mercy bachelor’s degrees. 

YIT students will transfer back the senior year credits taken at Detroit Mercy to complete their bachelor’s degrees at YIT.

Most of the students will then stay on to complete Detroit Mercy master’s degrees.

Creating partnerships with Chinese universities to identify cohorts has taken years of work behind the scenes. Chi-Dar Lin, Detroit Mercy’s director of Asian Student Enrollment Programs, has led this effort.

Lin meets with various schools in China and then works with university and government officials to develop the partnerships.

Both Mark Denham, dean, and Victoria Mantzopoulos, associate dean, from the College of Liberal Arts & Education, along with leadership from the College of Engineering & Science, have traveled to China for discussions on program development between the two schools.

“Dr. Lin approaches the Chinese universities,” Das said. “He builds the partnership. He has direct contact with high-level officials at those universities. If the president of the university agrees to move forward, then the rest of the university will follow that path. Dr. Lin builds those relationships, does all the ground work in China and then brings a proposal to Detroit Mercy.” 

Lin has been able to build partnerships with highly-rated Chinese schools, something that has caught the eyes of other institutions in China.

“By recruiting  from prestigious schools with a reputation like BUCT, other Chinese universities now look at Detroit Mercy favorably as a destination,” former College of Engineering & Science Dean Gary Kuleck said. 

“Dr. Lin has really established Detroit Mercy’s reputation in China. This will lead to even stronger partnerships and a larger number of Chinese students who want to come to Detroit Mercy to study. Dr. Lin has been an incredible asset for us. I don’t think we would have been able to achieve this with anyone else,” he added. 

Detroit Mercy is currently working on partnerships with other Chinese schools and expects to have more cohorts in the coming years.

“When we went and visited China last summer, we toured the six or seven universities that we’re working on developing or have developed a partnership with,” Kuleck said. “It was remarkable for me to see that because every time we went somewhere, we’re meeting the president, the vice president, the V.P. for international students and so on. Dr. Lin was very thoughtful about making sure we have students coming into all of our engineering programs. These efforts are still developing, but he has really done a remarkable job connecting with multiple schools.”

“I personally didn’t find the students or the classroom culture very different,” said Mantzopoulos, who taught a course in Beijing. “I had a wonderful time teaching and the students were thrilled to interact and talk in class, I think students are students and our differences are really very minimal. The students took a lot of selfies with me and asked about the U.S. culture.”

As part of the partnerships, Detroit Mercy will send professors to China to teach courses to the students who will travel to the U.S. 

“The Chinese government is interested in helping students improve their English and exposing them to the Western style of teaching before they arrive in the U.S.,” Das said. “For the last three years, we have been sending faculty in engineering courses and non-engineering courses to these universities for two or three weeks — in a couple cases, eight-week classes. The students get familiar with us and the methods used in the U.S. for teaching. A lot of times, these students would have had the same class or the same content in Chinese. Now they have a professor who teaches it in English instead.”

The teaching style of faculty in the United States and professors in China is often very different. Allowing the Chinese students to receive exposure to the teaching style of Detroit Mercy faculty helps prepare them for their arrival in the U.S.

“The classroom atmosphere is different,” Das said. “There is a cultural difference. The Chinese students are educated in classroom settings where asking questions and open interactions are not common. It’s like information flowing from one side to the other. The teacher comes and lectures, and the student quietly takes notes and leaves.  It is very hard for those students to suddenly now be in a classroom where they’re expected to actively interact. It’s a very different approach to teaching in the U.S. system. 

“Our hope is that this exposure, prior to them coming here, gives them the ability to at least become familiar with a different teaching approach and classroom atmosphere. Teachers here would be very used to talking about their personal lives or making jokes, and the Chinese students are not used to that approach.

“When the faculty from here go and do that while teaching in China, the Chinese students really enjoy it. It’s a different atmosphere. They also have the Chinese faculty who taught the same class in the classroom as sort of a liaison between our faculty and the students. One of the Chinese faculty after one of these sessions told our faculty, ‘Hey, I really loved that you shared all these things and told all these jokes, maybe I’m going to do that in my class as well.’ ”

Das said that the Chinese students will enjoy the long-term benefits from being exposed to the United States, but Detroit Mercy’s domestic students will also enjoy the benefits of interacting with the Chinese students and being exposed to their culture. He said that since the world is so well-connected today, every engineer must expect to have to work internationally during their lifetime.

“Most of our domestic students end up working in the automotive industry. International assignment is one of the key factors in the automotive industry to get promoted and to move  to positions of greater responsibility. There is a huge presence of Ford, GM, Chrysler, and the Tier I & II suppliers in the Chinese market or Southeastern Asian market because of the large market size. It is very, very likely that these students, when they are professionals, will have to go work in China, whether it’s for a short time or a long time,” Das said.

Das also noted that learning about other cultures and forming bonds with people from different backgrounds is crucial for students’ professional development. Through this program, Das explained, Detroit Mercy encourages domestic students to think in those terms. It is an opportunity for them to not only be in the same classroom, but to learn more about engineering and project-based work, since most of them will be required to work in teams with students who are from different backgrounds and cultural environments.

“It works the same way for the Chinese students as well,” Das explained. “One of the reasons the students want to come here is they want to do the same thing. They want international experience. They want to be able to work and interact with the domestic students. This is what I hear from their leadership all the time. Who’s going to teach them? Who’s going to be in groups with them? They don’t necessarily want to come all this way and be in a classroom with only Chinese students and a Chinese instructor. It’s a richer classroom experience because of the diverse population. I think both groups learn a lot from each other.”

The Chinese students will arrive in the fall, but Detroit Mercy is already making plans for the students’ experiences outside of the classroom through the International Services Office and the Student Life Office. For example, the office is developing a plan for the first couple of weeks. 

“That plan involves a lot of required tasks. They have to buy medical insurance and open a bank account, for example. Those things will be facilitated by those University offices. Along with that, there are social gatherings and programs they are planning during the first couple of weeks. Beyond that, we are also trying to work on other events that can be arranged so these students have something happening pretty frequently,” Das said. “We have had other Chinese cohorts in the past and have learned from those experiences as to how we can enhance the Chinese student experience, at the beginning of their enrollment and throughout their time at Detroit Mercy.”

Ultimately, Das’ goal is for the Chinese students to have a great experience at Detroit Mercy and in the U.S., both as students and individuals living for a short period in our society. As a result, Detroit Mercy is working diligently to ensure the experience of Chinese students is exceptional. Classrooms are undergoing renovation and preparations are taking place for students to be able to work in the new Center for Automotive Systems Engineering Education (CASEE) Lab. 

“We want our guest students to go back to their country and not only speak about the wonderful experience they had at the University, but to talk with pride about their academic experience and experience in our culture,” Das said. “This will help persuade future students to come here, which we hope will happen.”

To learn more about this effort, contact College of Engineering & Science Interim Dean Katherine Snyder at 313-993-1216 or via email at snyderke@udmercy.edu and College of Liberal Arts & Education Associate Dean Victoria Mantzopoulos at 313-993-3254 or via email at armstrov@udmercy.edu.

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