In December 2014, Dean Jeff MacKie-Mason headed a delegation of UMSI faculty on a visit to China to explore collaboration opportunities and increase the visibility and awareness of UMSI among China’s foremost information industries and universities. While most of the faculty members had been to China before, and some are natives of the country, this was the first official visit as a group representing UMSI.
Accompanying MacKie-Mason were Professor Yan Chen, Associate Professors Qiaozhu Mei and Kai Zheng, and Assistant Professor Silvia Lindtner, as well as development and alumni relations director Rebecca Pagels.
“This trip was a unique opportunity to expand from and deepen the engagements and collaborations each of the participating UMSI faculty had built with Chinese universities, faculties, students and corporations,” said Lindtner. “While we all had worked in China and with Chinese partner universities before, we now planted the seeds to move from these individual partnerships to a collective engagement, potentially impacting other UMSI faculty and students and the School of Information as a whole.”
The full itinerary included visits and presentations at Peking University and Tsinghua University in Beijing; Zhejiang University in Hangzhou; and Fudan University, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Tongji University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai.
The group also visited some prominent players in the information industry in China, including Baidu, a web company whose search engine is often compared to Google; Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce company whose consumer-to-consumer portal Taobao is similar to eBay; and Microsoft Research Asia.
At these companies, the delegation laid the ground for future research collaboration as well as establishing opportunities for UMSI students to find internships or job placements there.
At many of these sites, Dean MacKie-Mason gave an overview presentation on UMSI and the research being conducted by faculty.
“I feel that the biggest accomplishment of the trip is that we let the top institutes and industry leaders in China better understand the mission and the achievements of UMSI,” said Mei.
“Before our visit, many had a mistaken view of us, considering us as either a library school or a computer science department or a management of information system program. I feel that we have successfully planted the seeds of potential collaborations of many types, ranging from joint academic programs, joint research projects, faculty and student visits, summer internships and potential placements of our students, and attracting students to apply to our program.”
Although the visit took place only a few months ago, a number of follow-up projects have already been initiated. UMSI, in collaboration with the Stamps School of Art and Design and the Center for Entrepreneurship, has proposed a grant to support the U-M Global Makers Program, which would consist of a six-week intensive “incubator-style” course centered around an engaged learning experience in China. Potential partners at the College of Design & Innovation at Tongji University, the Academy of Arts and Design at Tsinghua University and the School of Mechanical Engineering at Jiaotong University have all written letters in support of the program.
The School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science of Peking University paid a return visit to UMSI in March to explore the possibilities of a joint program such as a “3+2” joint degree program in which students would spend three years earning a bachelor’s degree at Peking University followed by two years at UMSI earning a master’s degree.
And both Baidu and multiple groups at Alibaba have been in touch requesting recommendations for summer interns, according to Mei.
“All of these follow ups make me feel that the visit was very fruitful,” Mei said. “It was the first group visit of UMSI to China. I would definitely recommend more visits like this to facilitate UMSI’s global mission.”