“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
The words of that old Chinese proverb guided 20 faculty members from China’s Southeast University recently as they took courses in Lehigh’s P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science.
Located in Nanjing, Southeast has a full-time enrollment of more than 30,000 students and is one of China’s top 10 science and engineering universities. Its educators came to Lehigh to learn how American engineering students tackle hands-on projects and how they interact with professors.
“China’s technical universities are undergoing reforms, especially in engineering education,” said Ji-Wen Zhang, deputy director and professor in Southeast University’s School of Civil Engineering.
“Our time at Lehigh has been a good opportunity for us to learn new teaching methods that will enhance students’ practical abilities and motivate their interest in engineering.”
Learning by doing, and learning the basics
The Chinese professors were particularly interested in a Lehigh course called Engineering 5: Introduction to Engineering Practice, in which freshmen work in teams to design and make a device or system.
The goal of the course is to help students improve their practical, problem-solving and communication skills while introducing them to the engineering fields and degree programs before they choose their major.
Seventeen faculty members from Southeast took an accelerated, two-and-one-half-week version of Engineering 5 during their stay at Lehigh.
They modeled and improved a queuing system, built a wireless sensor system, designed and tested a water purification system, and designed a sensor to measure moisture in the soil.
Traditionally, said Dafang Fu, a professor in Southeast’s School of Civil Engineering, Chinese engineering schools have emphasized physics, mathematics, chemistry and other sciences in the first two years. In the junior year students begin to focus on their engineering major.
“We’re trying to change this so that students begin learning about their major and about other engineering fields as freshmen,” said Fu, a water-purification expert, “while they simultaneously gain exposure to the basics of physics, math and chemistry.
“We believe this will help students make better career choices.”
A time for action, and for building on friendships
“We came to Lehigh,” said Zhang, “because you have more experience in this way of educating engineering freshmen. Also, our schools share similar interests and have good communications.”
Lehigh and Southeast began forming a relationship this year. In January, nine Lehigh faculty members, led by Mohamed El-Aasser, vice president in the office of international affairs, visited Southeast to identify areas of mutual interest.
In April, three Southeast officials, led by Jiamao Zheng, the university’s vice president, visited Lehigh to continue discussions.
“Your vice president is a man of action,” El-Aasser told the Southeast faculty members at a farewell lunch July 28. “That’s why it took a relatively short time to put together this summer program.
“The friendships that we’ve formed over the last few weeks will continue,” El-Aasser said. “Our hope is that the relationship between our two universities can expand to include exchanges of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as research collaborations.”
The Chinese proverb cited above, said El-Aasser, captured the spirit of the summer program and of Engineering 5.
Lehigh faculty members taking part in the program include Kristen Jellison (civil and environmental engineering), Liang Cheng (computer science and engineering), William Best and William Haller (electrical and computer engineering), Keith Gardiner and Larry Snyder (industrial and systems engineering), Jeff Rickman (materials science and engineering), David Angstadt (mechanical engineering and mechanics), and Gregory Reihman, director of faculty development.
The program was coordinated by Gregory Tonkay, associate dean for undergraduate studies of the engineering college, and organized by Wuyi Zhang of the office of international cooperation at Southeast University and Debra Nyby, director of international services in Lehigh’s office of international affairs.
Three of the Southeast faculty members observed classes in electrical engineering, materials science and mechanical engineering.