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October 27, 2011

Pitt opens China office

A new University office has opened nearly 7,000 miles from Pittsburgh to provide Pitt with a home base in China.

The University’s Beijing office is in a small office tower suite in the university district alongside other American companies and universities. Although Beijing office director Kevin Ming already is at work, a formal grand opening is planned for early next year, said University Center for International Studies (UCIS) director Lawrence Feick, who, as Pitt’s senior director of international programs, is overseeing the office.

Ming, who studied in Pitt’s cultural anthropology doctoral program, holds a master’s degree in Chinese studies from Illinois, and speaks Cantonese and Mandarin. He has done extensive scholarly fieldwork in China and has worked in programs that cultivate international educational links.


Kevin Ming, director of Pitt’s new office in Beijing

“For somebody like me, this is a wonderful opportunity,” said Ming, 42. “I consider myself a Pitt person and a China person. To be director of the new office in China — the first one we had of this type — is amazing.”

Pitt’s Council of Deans included the office as part of a 2010 international plan that deemed China a priority, Feick said. As a representative office, the Beijing site will not offer classes, but is intended to support Pitt’s existing academic ties in China, develop new relationships and assist with recruiting, international alumni relations and special projects.

Pitt’s arrival in Beijing comes at an important time, Ming said. “Now is a real time of opportunity for education, programmatic and institutional links in China,” he said, noting that the Chinese government has identified greater international cooperation as one of its goals for reforming and developing higher education over the course of the next decade.

“For Pitt, this means an environment of major support by the Chinese national government for more profound and substantive cooperation with international institutions to their mutual benefit,” he said. “We are poised, along with a pretty select group of U.S. universities now operating in China — the University of Michigan, University of Chicago, Notre Dame, Purdue, NYU and others — to take advantage of this unique moment in developing a variety of levels of formal and informal links to the benefit of our students, faculty and University as a whole,” he said.

Ming said that in addition to building programmatic connections, his office will support and develop study abroad programs and facilitate visits by Pitt faculty and staff.

He also will concentrate on cultivating alumni relationships, which he said are important as the number of Chinese Pitt graduates rises. “Our China alums have a strong sense of connection with Pitt and are a source of enormous potential strength for the University. They are future leaders in China,” Ming said.

“I hope many of the things we do now will have long-term positive effects, for Pitt and for China as well.”

As an indication of Pitt’s Chinese ties and interests, Feick noted that six members of the Council of Deans were in the country for various purposes during October alone. Multiple schools have relationships in China: business has connections in Shanghai; the Confucius Institute in Wuhan and Beijing, and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) in Nanjing, to name a few. In addition, the University Library System (ULS) has partnerships with a number of Chinese libraries and universities to facilitate the delivery of scholarly materials as well as for gift and exchange programs.

Although no individual unit will “own” Pitt’s Beijing office, GSPIA, the Katz Graduate School of Business, the Swanson School of Engineering, the School of Arts and Sciences and ULS are contributing financial support for the office, each with slightly different objectives, Feick said, noting that Ming will work with the units to support Pitt’s efforts not only in China, but in Asia more broadly.

“As the deans get more comfortable over the next months with what the office can and can’t do, the aspirations will be clearer,” said Feick, adding that Ming already has been helpful in navigating changing Chinese government regulations.

For some perspective on the benefits of a remote office, Feick pointed to Pitt’s Washington, D.C., center. Launched in 2008 by GSPIA, the law school, Student Affairs and federal Governmental Relations, the office has enhanced students’ opportunities for placement in government, nonprofit and corporate positions. It also serves as a home base in the capitol for Pitt’s federal Government Relations staff and provides a setting from which Washington-based alumni can participate in videoconference career briefings for students in Pittsburgh.

GSPIA Dean John T.S. Keeler said his school’s involvement in the Washington center has enhanced its understanding of what it hopes to accomplish through the new office in China, adding that having a presence there “is disproportionately important to us.”

He sees potential in aiding recruitment, guidance and career placement for GSPIA. He said he hopes Ming eventually will be able to arrange similar career briefings with the growing numbers of Pitt alumni in China, and sees the office as helpful in connecting students and alumni with jobs in China.

Keeler also sees potential for the office to facilitate short courses for Pitt students who are not specialists in China — perhaps study abroad opportunities or certificates that would differentiate their resume with some specialized international experience. In addition, he said, Ming can promote the ever-growing number of research collaborations and connections being developed between Pitt and Asian institutions.

Several factors are combining to make China an especially high priority for GSPIA. Keeler said that growing wealth among Chinese families, government encouragement of study abroad and an increasing number of Chinese college graduates — many of whom want jobs in public service — have resulted in an influx of Chinese students to the United States.

Asia has become the top source of international applicants to GSPIA, with China at the top of the list, Keeler said. In 2011, 147 of GSPIA’s international applicants were from China, 24 from Korea, 12 from Taiwan and 10 from Japan, with 15 other countries rounding out its 43 other applications.

Keeler said the school added a fourth category of students in its most recent annual plan, delineating beyond in-state, out-of-state and international categories to break Chinese and non-Chinese international applicants into separate subcategories.

“We want to welcome Chinese students,” he said, pointing to Chinese-language materials on the prospective students section of GSPIA’s web site that he said has earned positive feedback. Photos, testimonials and interview videos serve as a “cultural handshake” to make Chinese students feel welcome. And some information is oriented toward students’ families who, although they may have English language skills, can better understand nuances expressed in their native language.

Keeler noted that being user-friendly and welcoming is important in recruitment, particularly with regard to international students who are considering — perhaps with some trepidation — study abroad.

In addition, being in Pittsburgh, a city less well-known in China than places like New York, Washington, D.C., or San Francisco, “we have to work harder” to familiarize prospective international students with the amenities of western Pennsylvania.

“China is where the action is,” agreed Larry Shuman, senior associate dean for academic affairs in the Swanson School of Engineering. He said he hopes to utilize the Beijing office both to support existing programs as well as to expand the engineering school’s presence in China.

Shuman teaches a course on globalization of technology that takes Pitt students to China for a 10-day intensive symposium each spring. The course, now in its seventh year, last year took students to visit two universities, Alcoa’s Beijing office and a Chinese company whose CEO holds a Pitt MBA.  “Having somebody on the ground makes it a lot easier to do things,” he said, anticipating assistance from the Beijing office in making future arrangements as one benefit. “Having help so you don’t have to do them all from 7,000 miles away is very helpful,” he said.

“We are trying to do more and more with China,” Shuman said, noting there already are both graduate and undergraduate programs that allow students here to travel to China. He said the school wants to partner with a Chinese university on a joint-degree program, describing a 3-2 program in which Chinese students would study three years in China, then come to Pitt to complete their bachelor’s degree and, if they do well, stay an additional year to earn their master’s. He said the Beijing office could help screen prospective students and test their language skills.

Business Dean John T. Delaney said, “It’s critical for us to be in Asia,” envisioning the new office as a tool for leveraging the many contacts Pitt already has developed in Asia.

“It’s good for us to be located over there. It says to the Chinese government and the people in China that we are serious about our connections,” he said. “And it will help us attract a greater number of students from China who want to come to Pitt,” an important consideration as the University seeks to attract students from beyond its traditional recruitment area.

“For us to be a strong university, we have to continue to build our global presence. We have a strong brand; we should let everyone realize it,” Delaney said.

“This is a signal that the whole University is recognizing the fact that not only is business global, the educational system is a global system too.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 44 Issue 5

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