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The U of M goes to China

President Eric Kaler completed a highly successful 11-day trip to China, the first international venture in his two-year tenure at the U.

July 10, 2013

President Eric Kaler returned home recently from a highly successful 11-day trip to China, the first international venture in his two-year tenure at the U.

The trip was designed to solidify partnerships with key China universities, to explore research, student, and scholarship exchange opportunities for the University, and to launch the U's 100th anniversary celebration of the arrival of Chinese students to its Twin Cities campus. (Learn more about the century-long engagement between the U of M and China at China 100.)

The whirlwind journey included two days in Hong Kong, another two days in Shanghai, five days in Beijing and Tianjin, and another two days in Taipei.

There was a cancelled flight and numerous traffic jams along the way, but the hectic pace yielded a trove of accomplishments.

"Curiosity is the driver for creative work in all fields," Kaler told an audience. "There is, admittedly, a certain questioning of authority in the liberal arts and humanities, but it is a questioning that seeks to examine and then solve some of the world's most pressing problems."

U of M ranked 29th in world

While U of M President Eric Kaler was in China, the highly respected Shanghai Jiao Tong Academic Ranking of World Universities were released, and the U of M was named the world's 29th best, and the 9th top public university in the United States.

Kaler and other U leaders signed a total of 10 cooperative agreements with Chinese universities and research centers. In addition, there were a host of meetings with leading education, government, and business officials in the region and four engaging gatherings with enthusiastic alumni.

"We learned much and renewed and built strong relationships." Kaler said of the trip. "China's best and brightest want to be our students. China's top universities and research centers want to be our partners. And we want to ensure that our Minnesota-born students and others from the United States gain the global competency that comes through exchanges with China's best higher education institutions. I expect a large return on investment from this trip."

Renewing partnerships and forging new ones

Kaler and his small contingent—including his wife, Karen, and Meredith McQuaid, the associate vice president and dean of international programs—hit the ground running on day 1, as Kaler signed a cooperative agreement with Asia's top-ranked university, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and visited Hong Kong's Science and Technology Park to share ideas about innovation and to learn about tech transfer possibilities for U discoveries.

Taipei National Yang Ming University visit
At Taipei's National Yang Ming University, President Kaler, a chemical engineer, visited a biophotonics lab. It was one of many sessions during his trip where he met with leading scientists and scholars to strengthen relationships and build partnerships between the U and top Chinese universities.

In the evening, the Kalers and McQuaid hosted about 75 alumni from Hong Kong, including graduates of the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Design, the College of Science and Engineering, and the Carlson School of Management (CSOM). CSOM Dean Sri Zaheer was also on hand to strengthen ties with Carlson School alums who live and work in Hong Kong.

That pace continued throughout the trip, as Kaler, McQuaid, and other U deans and leaders who joined the group in various locations made inroads with their counterparts in higher education and other business and education dignitaries.

In Beijing, Kaler renewed a five-year partnership agreement at Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters. Hanban is committed to providing Chinese language and cultural teaching resources around the world, and the U has one of the United States' most successful Confucius Institutes, established on campus in 2008.

While in Tianjin, Kaler and others visited the Tianjin University of Sport (TUS), home to the University of Minnesota’s unique American Cultural Center for Sport. A program funded partially by the U.S. State Department, the center brings culturally-oriented instruction, exchanges, and engagement to Chinese people using the medium of sport to examine deeply held cultural values within American society.

At TUS, students could be seen wandering the hallways with maroon-and-gold Gophers caps and jerseys—a nice touch of home for the Minnesota visitors.

Kaler also delivered a major address in two locations titled "Global, Innovative, and Open For Business: The American Research University in the 21st Century," A chemical engineer himself, Kaler outlined the differences between China's research and technology transfer practices and those in the United States, and promoted the idea that the liberal arts and critical thinking are elements of innovation.

The second address was at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the leading graduate school in China, and the first was at Shanghai's Jiao Tong University (STJU). As he entered his lecture at STJU, Kaler was greeted by a billboard-sized likeness of himself, an indication of good, old-fashioned Chinese marketing. Students there also presented Kaler with a fetching caricature of him more or less standing on the top of the world.

The trip itself was a great opportunity to travel halfway across the world to make new connections with a nation that now has a century-long relationship with the U. And as a global university in a global marketplace, that effort becomes increasingly imperative as other American universities compete with the U for important and meaningful partnerships.

Coincidentally, while Kaler was in China, the highly respected Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings were released, and the University was named the world's 29th best, and the 9th top public university in the United States.

"That is remarkable," Kaler said, "and this trip underscored how strong and respected the University of Minnesota is around the world, for our teaching, our faculty, our research and the broad and deep impact we have. We are truly a 21st-century global university, and this trip will help us build on that mission and vision."

For more highlights from the trip, including photos, see a travelogue of the trip.

Twin Cities Campus: