University of Maine at Presque Isle forges partnership with Chinese university

Posted Feb. 08, 2012, at 7:46 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Delegates from a Chinese university wrapped up a two-day trip to the University of Maine at Presque Isle on Wednesday as the two educational institutions continue a more than two-year effort to partner on cross-cultural educational opportunities for students in both nations.

Officials from UMPI hosted delegates from Siyuan University, located in Xi’an, China, during a visit geared toward strengthening connections and exploring new partnerships between the two institutions. Siyuan University is one of the country’s colleges not funded by the government and has 18,000 students, according to its website. It is a comprehensive university with programs in science, engineering, arts, laws, economics, management and foreign languages and it has an active international exchange program.

Yanbo Zhou, chairman of the Siyuan University board, and Hualong Tong, deputy director of international cooperation and exchange at Siyuan University, spent two days at UMPI as part of a larger, two-week visit to the United States to meet with universities and government officials and to develop educational connections. In addition to their stop in Presque Isle, the Chinese university officials planned visits in Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Mexico.

Michael Sonntag, UMPI provost and vice president for academic affairs, said Wednesday afternoon that the relationship with the Chinese university has been developing for a bit more than two years.

“We’ve been able to continue our discussion about ways to partner on initiatives,” Sonntag said. “We are looking at developing degree program articulation agreements that would allow Chinese students to complete two or three years of their education at Siyuan and then their final year or two at UMPI. That would enable them to earn both a Chinese and U.S. degree. They are also interested in having students from UMPI go to Siyuan. There is a lot of potential for collaboration.”

Right now, there are about a dozen Chinese students from Siyuan University completing their bachelor’s degrees at UMPI.

“We have a pretty ambitious goal,” Sonntag acknowledged. “We would like to have a curriculum in place to make this happen in March so that we can launch it in April.”

The program would be designed collaboratively by faculty from UMPI and Siyuan.

Sonntag said that UMPI’s relationship with Siyuan and other Chinese institutions has helped forge new learning opportunities for the local public school system. During their visit, the Chinese delegates also met with SAD 1 officials to discuss collaborations with Presque Isle High School.

“Ideally, the students could come to Presque Isle High School and then transfer to UMPI,” said Sonntag. “But there are many possibilities. We are finding that parents of Chinese students are interested in UMPI and this area because of the low crime, clean air and the general environment.”

He said that the existing students from Siyuan are enjoying UMPI and getting involved in the campus community.

Zhou said his university had two goals for this week’s visit, including getting to know the college and campus officials better and developing plans for the future. He said they accomplished both.

“Chinese students want to develop more connections, study in the United States and get an education here,” he said. “China has a very good educational system, but it is also good for college students to learn English and learn about the U.S.”

Sonntag anticipates that such a program, once running, could bring groups of 20 to 30 students to campus, which also would provide for greater diversity and opportunities for cultural exchange on the UMPI campus.

“Chinese students tend to know about New England, but they don’t really know about Maine,” he said. “They know New England’s historical strength in education, which leads them to colleges and universities in the region. I think that this collaboration will help them learn more about Maine and The County, and the students can take that knowledge back to China. It could also be good for economic development, as it could prompt more visits from Chinese tourists.”

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