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University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering

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Pilot Exchange Program Has Plans to Expand Education, Research Efforts

By: 

Erin D. McKenzie

Thousands of miles from her home in China, Mengting Yu is taking the remainder of the courses necessary for the completion of her bachelor’s degree.

A senior at East China State University of Science and Technology, Yu is one of three chemical engineering majors from the Shanghai university opting to finish their fourth year of studies at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering.

“I think it’s an opportunity,” Yu said of the ability to study at UH, a chance made possible through a pilot exchange program between the two universities. “It’s very good for us to go abroad and experience something new; I want to experience how people here learn. Improve English.”

Developed out of a memorandum of understanding signed in 2006 by ECUST, UH and the Shanghai Jinshan District People’s Government, the exchange program has brought eight students to UH in both the fall 2007 and 2008 semesters.

Of the five students who came to UH the first year, three are pursuing graduate degrees in the university’s department of chemical engineering and one is seeking a graduate degree in environmental engineering at the college.

“It’s important that they choose us,” said James Richardson, exchange program director and a professor in the Cullen College’s department of chemical engineering of the returning students. “It shows how successful and important the undergraduate part was and it gives us a prior look at students before they are accepted to graduate school. It’s really important for the continuation of the program and it’s success in the future.”

With the recent success of the pilot program, officials are looking to expand on the agreement, a component of Houston Mayor Bill White’s International Cooperation Council of Houston – established to raise Houston’s international profile through educational and cultural exchanges and initiatives with foreign countries.

“The MOU was signed to establish a program for the benefit of the parties in education, research, faculty development and industry development,” said Steven Pei, a professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering who helped cultivate the agreement. “We have only implemented the first phase of education. It is time to expand the education to the whole college and start looking into the other components of the agreement.”

As it operates to date, the program brings only chemical engineering majors in their senior year to study at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering during the fall and spring semesters before returning to Shanghai to offer a presentation to ECUST officials, satisfying the requirements for their degree.

“The whole idea is to acquaint them with the culture, education and get them the chance to work on their English,” Richardson said. “So far it’s been a very positive thing. We want to see it expand to include the entire college.”

Encompassing the other disciplines could help facilitate a larger goal – to make the program more permanent.

This would make possible the ability to grow the partnership to include opportunities for UH students to travel to Shanghai to study, and eventually, lead to the exchange of graduate-level students at both institutions, Richardson said. The exchange of graduate students, Richardson said, would pave the way for collaborative research efforts between the universities.

Officials are hopeful the partnership could build stronger industry ties in Houston and China to contribute to the growth of the exchange program that could offer not only internships, but also financial support to make the opportunity available to more students.

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