by Amy Whitesall, Published August 31, 2011
In May, Wuhan University in Hubei, China dedicated the brand new technology lab building that will be the base of its research and academic partnership with Eastern Michigan University.
The building and partnership-the Joint International Center for Resources, Environment Management and Digital Technology-are new, but an EMU professor has quietly spent the last six years laying the foundation.
Since 2005 EMU Geography and Geology professor Yichun Xie has hosted a steady stream of graduate students from Wuhan in his lab. Xie's field of study, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), uses computers to solve societal problems by overlaying sets of data with location information to create a map that tells you more than just how to get from A to B. It can turn a brow-furrowing pile of data into a meaningful picture that identifies a pattern, trend, cause or effect. It's a way of using computers that goes beyond the technical training many Chinese students receive, he says.
"We give many of these graduate students hands-on experience working with GIS applications," said Xie, director of EMU's Institute for Geospatial Research and Education. "Some of them go back to China, and when they go back they become key research faculty members of Wuhan University."
The formal agreement between EMU and Wuhan creates a pipeline for Wuhan University students-both graduate and undergraduate-who want to study computer science, GIS and economics at EMU.
And it opens a door for EMU students to build global connections in a country that's beginning to recruit more international workers. It also creates opportunities for EMU faculty to teach, travel and collaborate on research in China. As part of the agreement, Wuhan University has agreed to pay for transportation, housing and some travel within China for EMU faculty who come to teach short-term intensive classes.
Eastern will send one faculty member to teach a short course at Wuhan in the winter 2012 semester, Xie says, and some EMU graduate students will make the trip next summer, when they may join teams of Chinese students on research projects.
"As Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences its one of my goals to internationalize and broaden the exposure of students and faculty to the world, " said CAS dean Tom Venner, who attended the dedication ceremony at the new joint lab facility. "I think it's a terribly important thing to do in these times."