Even though the Penn Wharton China Center is named for Penn’s business school, it is a place for all types of learning — and a place where students can learn about everything from urbanization to robotics to food science.
In the first 100 days since its opening on March 10, each of Penn’s schools held its own event at the Center, and invited researchers and faculty from institutions around China. The events have been attended by alumni, admitted and prospective students, and even Chinese high school students.
Managing Director of the PWCC Jeffrey Bernstein said that one goal of the Center has been to feature all of the schools because it aims to promote interdisciplinary research.
“What we found out from our local stakeholders was that none of our other peer schools, when they opened their China centers, had so many of their schools’ top leaders come at one time,” he said. “And so we thought it was a great way to show how focused we are in interdisciplinary work.”
Bernstein added that “each of the schools have found their own niche and drawn a really interesting and eclectic crowd of people from China, like university, government and media.”
Professor John Zhang, the executive facility director of the PWCC, emphasized the importance of Penn’s presence in China and noted the success of the events so far.
“Ultimately, we want to make sure that Penn and Wharton are perceived as the training ground for global leaders,” Zhang said. “And to do that we need to be in China — one of the most important economies in the world. All the events we do, we are hoping will be noticed so Penn and Wharton will be talked about. We are absolutely achieving that.”
Since the initial opening of the PWCC, the Center has seen approximately 1000 people pass through — either for events or just as drop-ins, Zhang said.
School of Design
The School of Design was one of the first schools to hold an event at the PWCC on March 13 during the “First 100 Days” celebrations. The School invited deans and chairs of departments from about 22 different design universities for a round table discussion about the problems of urbanization faced by the United States and China.
Dean of the School of Design Marilyn Jordan Taylor was one of the faculty members in attendance. Taylor said that China is a very important country for research in the design field because of its rapid urbanization.
“China has faced for decades in increasing measure the challenge of rapid urbanization,” she said. “New cities are rising from very small manufacturing communities to cities of multi-million people ... Beijing is booming but has terrible air quality.”
Taylor emphasized that the research coming out of the Design School at Penn can add value to the work taking place in China.
“Design groups in various Chinese academies are doing research into the techniques and strategies that can be put into place to measure performance of cities. These are things we are working on at Penn and things we want to share [with the Chinese],” she said. “A dialogue between what’s going on in China can be really helpful and wonderful for both sides.”
School of Social Policy and Practice
Professor Irene Wong and Professor Jerri Bourjolly, both professors at the School of Social Policy and Practice, were part of the events organized by SP2 during the “First 100 Days” celebrations.
SP2 held workshops on its Master of Social Work Program and non-profit organization capacity building. In attendance were leaders of non-profits in China, alumni, admitted students and prospective students.
“China is interested in growing their social work labor force, particularly in the area of health and mental health,” Bourjolly said. “A number of the academics and professionals that attended the workshop on social work were very interested in learning about our curriculum, which is particularly focused on health.”
Wong added that the development of the field of social work in China is in great demand.
“For the national government in China, I think the goal is to have half a million social workers between 2015 to 2016, so it’s really a very important training and development for the profession there because they need a lot of social workers in terms of meeting the needs of the people ... they have such a spectacularly transitioning economy and they have quite a few social issues that they need to address and that’s why that’s an important policy.”
Wong said that the school has submitted a proposal for the Penn China Research & Engagement Fund, a five year funding program that will provide researchers up to 1 million dollars from Penn, matched by up to 1 million dollars from the researchers’ School.
“We are proposing an interdisciplinary research on reducing the stigma of mental illness in china in the rural community of Sichuan province with faculty from the University of Hong Kong,” Wong said
The proposal from SP2 is focused on interdisciplinary research that involves the Department of Psychiatry at Penn and the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
School of Engineering
On June 18 and 19, the School of Engineering held its event at the PWCC on General Robotics Automation, Sensing and Perception, or GRASP. The first day was focused on high school education research, attended by between 30 and 40 Chinese high school students. The second day consisted of research presentations with between 60 and 70 faculty from Chinese institutions.
Engineering Professor Jianbo Shi was one of the six faculty members from the School of Engineering who attended, and hosted a talk on social vision.
Shi said that he was particularly moved by the high school students’ interest.
“The high school students were very impressive,” he said. “These were students who are very interested in robotics and participated in a robotics competition in China. They were extremely well-spoken and asked lots of interesting questions.”
Given the nature of the education system and culture in China, Shi said that the students’ interest in robotics was notable.
“Most Chinese students are very focused on the exam culture because these extracurricular activities don’t count towards any of the entrance exams, so this is pure personal interest in this technology, which I find very touching.”
The School of Engineering’s presence in China is valuable because of the growing need for advances in China’s technology sector.
Though Shi said the middle tier of well-trained engineers is very large, the high level is “not at the level of international standards.”
“China is interested in looking to catch up in terms of technology because their manufacturing capacity is over-saturated and they’re looking for ways of moving ahead, and robotics and technology like this is a major push for them,” he said. “There is a big gap between the general business climate and education in school. Education is still very traditional, while the industry sector has innovated.”
The School of Engineering also invited representatives from the U.S. Embassy to its event to talk to the students about what it is like to study in the U.S. and how to apply to U.S. schools.
School of Veterinary Medicine
Professor Zhengxia Dou was one of the three faculty members from the Vet School to travel to China for the School’s event, a forum on food security.
In attendance were approximately 100 researchers, mostly in the agricultural field, from all over China.
“[The event] was a discussion about China’s food security, how China will feed a growing demand for food in the next decade or two and the implications of the global food security arena ... how the China situation will affect the global situation,” Dou said.
Yet Dou added that the research and education surrounding food security in China is quite “siloed and fragmented.”
The interdisciplinary work that the Vet School faculty can do in China through the PWCC will add value to the existing food security academia in China.
“A lot of research going on but they are in their own field,” she said. “Crop scientists only go to conferences related to their own field and animal scientists only address their own field. What makes this conference different from the past is that it is interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary. We try to pull this together.”
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.