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The grand opening of the Penn Wharton China Center will occur over a period of six months in Beijing's Central Business District.

Photo: Courtesy of CobbleCC/Creative Commons

Almost two years and four months in the making, the Penn Wharton China Center is finally approaching its grand opening.

Penn President Amy Gutmann announced late last year that the center will open in Beijing this coming March. The grand opening will last through September 2015, featuring events including academic conferences, professional development sessions and alumni gatherings.

Originally expected to open in January 2015, the center was initially authorized by the Board of Trustees in 2012. The necessary registration, including the license to run the center, was completed in the summer of 2013. Due to legal restrictions regarding foreign academic institutions in China, the center is registered as a business entity and as a result is currently unable to host long-term study abroad programs, Faculty Director of the Center John Zhang said.

Although students will be unable to take classes at the Center, it will still offer both academic and professional opportunities. Executive Director of Penn Global Amy Gadsden said that currently, 11 of Penn's 12 schools have research projects related to China. There are 1,500 students from mainland China currently studying at Penn, and over 400 students have studied abroad in China for credit courses since 2010.

"Right now we are sitting in Philadelphia waiting for all the bright scholars in China to come to us. This is like an old Chinese adage that says a hunter sits beside a tree and waits for prey to bump into it," Zhang said. "We need to bring Penn and Wharton to China."

Zhang added that it is crucial to have a "hub" for Penn in Beijing because "much administrative and logistical work can't be done very well on campus."

Gadsden, who received a Ph.D. in Chinese history, believes that China is important to study at Penn due to its increasingly powerful international presence. She said that the University recently received a grant from the Freeman Foundation to promote its East Asia Internship Program Scholarship.

"China is such a diverse place that our students can explore a wide variety of interests all over the country," she said. Currently there are 17 partnerships between Penn and various Chinese academic institutions, and the center in Beijing will be a great "vantage point" for managing these partnerships, Gadsden said.

Zhang also spoke to the importance of training future leaders in global awareness, which enhances the competitiveness of Penn students. This in turn helps Penn maintain its position as a top-class academic institution in the world, he said.

The center's infrastructure will draw students and scholars alike. Zhang gave the example of telepresence facilities, which can simulate real-time interactions with people at different locations in the world.

"There are a lot of alums and family members of Penn students in Beijing, and we want them to use the center as much as possible," Zhang said.

Within the month, Zhang and Gadsden will be flying to Beijing to attend the opening of the center, along with Provost Vincent Price. Price said in a meeting with the Daily Pennsylvanian staff earlier this year that Gutmann won't be able to attend the initial opening in March due to scheduling conflicts, but will visit the center in September to host a dedication and celebration event.

"What's been really enjoyable for me … is [seeing] the incredible range of activities related to China. There is a tremendous range of thought work going on here, and it's very exciting for Penn to be able to show and strengthen this advantage," Gadsden said.

Wharton senior Tina Tian, who was born and grew up in Beijing, is thankful that Penn is expanding to her home city. "I hadn't seen much Penn presence in Beijing before. But this year, I sensed an increasing emphasis on China-related things, and I've been getting more and more emails about events in Beijing," she said.

Graduating this coming May and having already secured a job offer, Tian said she does not need to utilize the center's resources to find employment opportunities, though she emphasized that China's rapid economic growth is creating many jobs throughout the nation.

Tian added that many student groups on campus are interested in reaching out to Chinese schools or companies for professional reasons or otherwise, but they lack the necessary access to build fruitful connections. The Penn Wharton China Center may bridge the gap for students.

"Penn is doing this top-down," she said. "It might take 10 years for students to build these relationships on their own, but it would take Penn much less time to do so."

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