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Engineering students to visit China for academic, industrial exchange program

BY DAVID ORENSTEIN

At a time when many Americans are struggling to figure out what kind of economic cooperation and competition China will provide, particularly in technology, engineering graduate students at Stanford University and Tsinghua University in Beijing will take a step away from apprehension and a step toward mutual understanding.

This month, four Stanford students will head to China as part of a pilot academic and industrial exchange program between Tsinghua and the Stanford School of Engineering. There they will meet and study with four Tsinghua students who in turn will come to Stanford next spring. Exchange programs are common at universities but this one stands out because it takes place at the graduate level of engineering, where research, technology transfer and entrepreneurship converge.

"This program has a symmetric structure, designed to produce important benefits for the students and institutions in both nations," says James D. Plummer, dean of the Stanford School of Engineering. "It is important for us to continue attracting the best students from around the world, including China, and it is equally important that our students understand commerce in China as the technology economy becomes more global."

Adds Zhiping Yu, a professor of microelectronics and nanoelectronics at Tsinghua and an electrical engineering alumnus of Stanford: "Now two great engineering schools, Stanford Engineering and the School of Information Science and Technology at Tsinghua, will see their students spend at least an academic quarter on each other's campus, taking courses, doing research and conducting internships in local high-tech companies. The root of friendship and entrepreneurship will be implanted and nurtured in the young generations to come."

Building bridges with industry and academia

The program involves not only a student exchange over the course of the 2006-07 academic year but also student participation in commercial ventures in each nation, Yu says. The intent is to give students—and their home institutions—a detailed picture of engineering teaching, research and enterprise in each culture.

"This program is important because it will provide an opportunity for Stanford students to interact with future leaders in technology in China, an important player in the global economy," says Xuan Wu, an electrical engineering master's student who will participate in the exchange. "It will foster a sense of an international community and cooperative responsibility."

Accompanying Wu will be computer science students Sye Min Chan and Jason Herbst and management science and engineering student Mike Rothenberg. Their counterparts at Tsinghua are Qiushi Ran, Ximeng Guan, Jiang Hao and Sheng Zhou. In June, the Stanford students will fly to China for summer classes at Tsinghua and internships at ventures including Intel's Beijing operations site and the Tsinghua Nanotechnology Center.

"The purpose of this summer internship program is to try to have our students gain experience in Chinese industrial business practice and the technology-industry working environment," says Yinyu Ye, a Stanford professor of management science and engineering who directs that department's industrial affiliates program. Two of the Stanford students, Rothenberg and Herbst, will continue taking classes at Tsinghua in the fall while also keeping up with their U.S. studies via online classes from the Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD), the professional education and distance-delivery arm of the Stanford School of Engineering.

After the Stanford students return to Palo Alto, the Tsinghua students will take classes and participate in research labs on the California campus in the spring. The Chinese students also will have the opportunity to visit or even intern with Silicon Valley companies, depending on visa constraints.

Next summer, if the pilot program has gone well, Stanford will send 10 new students to Beijing to start a new year-long exchange (summer through spring). Ultimately, the program could grow to include dozens of students each year, says Andy DiPaolo, director of SCPD.

"I am excited to be part of the first Tsinghua-Stanford Exchange Program on the graduate level," says master's student Rothenberg. "Stanford and Tsinghua could set a trend in university education around the world so that students everywhere may enjoy hands-on education about globalization and international cooperation, essential skills for the challenges our generation will face."

David Orenstein is the communications and public relations manager at the Stanford School of Engineering.