Lehigh’s relationship with China dates back to 1879, when the first Chinese scholars came to the university, according to Mohamed El-Aasser, Vice President for International Affairs. Today, the Office of International Affairs is building on this foundation to expand and develop new and lasting partnerships with China.
El-Aasser led a Lehigh Delegation to China in January 2011 which included a dean and senior faculty from all the colleges. Since January, the team has continued to cultivate relationships with key Chinese academic institutions.
“Our interest is to send Lehigh University to the world and bring the world back to Lehigh,” El-Aasser says. “We are working to build institutional connections in reasonably different regions around the world and build platforms to launch joint activities in these regions.”
What that means in concrete terms with respect to China is sending Lehigh students to China and providing them with avenues to:
• share with Lehigh’s campus their experiences upon their return.
• develop joint research programs involving faculty and graduate students from partner universities.
• have Chinese scholars visit Lehigh.
The aim is to enhance Lehigh’s international footprint in China and increase the internationalization of Lehigh University.
The specific details of the collaborations are still being developed, but all of these things are already happening, El-Aasser says, and will continue to happen in the coming months.
‘A hidden gem with great quality’
The process for enhancing Lehigh’s relationship with China began when the Office of International Affairs convened a group that was known as “the Lehigh China Study Group” and together they met for one year to examine a list of Chinese academic institutions and decide which ones Lehigh should explore as potential partners.
Nine key Chinese institutions were identified and after sending correspondence back and forth and establishing a dialogue, the Lehigh delegation, led by El-Aasser, visited China in January and spent one day at each of the nine institutions.
Oliver Yao, professor of management and one of the members of the Lehigh delegation, says that his interest in helping to strengthen Lehigh’s relationship with China stems, in part, from his Chinese heritage. Looking back on the Lehigh delegation’s time in China, Yao says the element that most surprised him was Lehigh’s reputation in China.
“My original impression was that Lehigh is largely unknown in China due to our size,” Yao says. “But after visiting a few universities and receiving guests from a few universities, I knew I was so wrong.”
Since the Lehigh team’s trip to China, four of the nine institutions have visited Lehigh—several more than once—for a variety of purposes, including a summer visit by 20 faculty members from Southeast University in Nanjing, who came to Lehigh to learn how the university teaches First-Year Engineering.
For more on the Southeast University delegation’s visit, read: A time to be involved, a time to remember
Yao says that the return visits from the Chinese institutions have really helped to further advance Lehigh’s reputation in China. “Especially for someone who didn't know Lehigh well,” Yao says, “such as one professor from Southeast University, who after his visit to Lehigh, told me that ‘Lehigh is a hidden gem with great quality.’”
Establishing an initial foundation
For Herman Nied, professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics and another member of the Lehigh delegation, the Lehigh visits by the Chinese delegations are the most promising things to materialize from the journey that the Lehigh team made back in January.
“The fact that a significant number of high-level administrators from the Chinese universities have paid reciprocal visits to Lehigh is a very positive sign that these schools are serious about making further commitments for student and faculty exchange programs” Nied says. “All of the recent visitors have been very impressed by Lehigh and seem to be sincere in making arrangements for closer collaborative activities.”
Strengthening Lehigh’s ties to China makes sense, Nied adds, for several reasons. “China is a rapidly growing country that presents many interesting opportunities for cultural, business, and scientific exchanges. It is very important that Lehigh students not only learn more about China, but also develop a network of Chinese contacts for future collaboration in the global economy. I believe that the Lehigh-China ‘project’ has established an initial foundation for future meaningful collaboration and exchanges between Lehigh and top-quality Chinese universities.”
Now that the foundation has been laid, the next hurdle will be to get Lehigh students involved, according to Anne Meltzer, Lehigh delegation member and professor of earth and environmental science. “We need to work on bringing Lehigh students into the picture and getting them interested in going to China,” she says.
Where is Lehigh going next? El-Aasser says his office hopes to build connections with India and Brazil, two other growing economies. “We already have a portfolio of international collaborations established in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore,” he adds.
And that’s where Lehigh’s global network of alumni and friends comes in, he says.
“Our alumni are a real asset as Lehigh develops regional partnerships,” El-Aasser says. “I have personally witnessed how Lehigh alumni, through their own contacts, have opened doors to important international connections which have ultimately resulted in programs that have directly benefited our students and faculty.”
An old Chinese Proverb says it all, “Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.”