CSUN has helped the United States and China shape a mutually beneficial and friendly relationship for the past 25 years.
Dr. Zhixin (Justine) Su is the coordinator for International Programs, but that is not her only responsibility. Su is also the director of the China Institute, a program designed to serve as a channel of communication and education between China and CSUN.
Su works with about 200 other members consisting of faculty, staff and local members of the community. All are volunteers hoping to help improve the bond between CSUN and China.
“The four missions of the China Institute are to promote friendship, understanding, cooperation and exchange,” Su said.
One of the ways the institute maintains and utilizes this channel between itself and China is through their exchange programs. CSUN currently has more than 40 sister schools in China and 12 scholarships are offered to CSUN students to study in China.
“I think we have one of the strongest relationships with China among all American institutions of higher learning,” Su said.
Sonja Daniels, associate director for student development and international programs, was on the committee that selected two students to go to China and study abroad for a year.
“That’s a great opportunity for our students,” said Daniels. “Students return from China having immersed themselves in China’s culture, academics and people. One of the students decided to stay in China this year after his scholarship. It just really opens things up as far as what students think about their career and what they want to do.”
Short-term visits to China are also planned. The China Institute contacts the Chinese government and universities for educational tours for students, graduates and faculty members alike. Chinese students rank the U.S. as their number one choice for studying and future career development, Su said.
Students also benefit by faculty members becoming interested in ways that professors from other countries instruct their classes.
“When the faculty obtains international experiences, they can change or expand their instruction. Adding international dimensions to their instruction and their course is a benefit to students,” said Mack Johnson, associate vice president for international program.
China and CSUN can help one another with their strengths in education. The Chinese educational system is strong in basic education, and the US is strong in graduate education. Both systems of education would benefit by taking some habits from the other. Some CSUN instructors have spent a great deal of time in China, Su said.
“We try to encourage our faculty to travel to China for research. Now some of our faculty is spending their sabbatical leave in China,” Su said.
Visiting other countries is not just a one-way street. Students and faculty from China have beneficial programs as well. The China Institute has recently helped the 2+2 program. In this program, students complete their first two years of school in China and then transfer to CSUN for their junior and senior years. Through this program, the student receives a double bachelor’s degree, one from CSUN and one from the university in China. There are currently five students enrolled in this program.
“This is a very successful pilot program,” Su said. “Many other universities have wanted to try this, but we’re really successful getting this program to take off.”
Other Chinese scholars are traveling to CSUN for education. This group varies from more faculty, businessmen and political leaders. Daigang Yang was a Chinese scholar who came to CSUN in ’01-’02. After he retuned to China, he was soon promoted to deputy mayor of Zhuanghe City in ’04.
“I would say my experience has been very positive,” Daniels said. “It’s a really great program that serves as a collaborative partnership for faculty staff and students. It builds a great relationship with our students through different culture and different academic styles.”
“Many of our former visiting scholars went back to China and became leaders in Chinese political, economic and educational institution,” Su said. “They play important roles in the democratic reform and economic development of China.”
The connection between China and CSUN can have an affect outside of education. The ongoing communication can have an impact on the cultures of the both countries involved.
The Chinese Institute has held cultural events on CSUN’s campus. There have been Chinese music concerts, operas and film festivals.
“CSUN students would find out that the Chinese people share many good values such as respect, trust, commitment and good work ethic,” Su said. “But the Chinese culture and traditions also have many unique features that can enrich the diversity and cross-cultural understanding for the American people.”
Su said another reason organizations like the China Institute are so important is because of the economic implications, pointing out that a large portion of American products are manufactured in China.
“China is now becoming the largest education and business partner with the U.S. and the largest market for American economy,” Su said.
However, the China Institute is not an academic department. The Institute will need an academic foundation to keep the relationship with China strong, such as a major or minor in the Chinese language or religious studies, Su said.
“We need to have some tenure-line faculty in this area and an academic program as the basis for development,” Su said.
“An academic extension is definitely beneficial to a program trying to establish itself,” Daniels said. “China is an emerging economy in so many different ways, it could partner with business or modern languages. I could see the program fitting into many different places around our university.”
Su was born in Wuhan, China. After taking a national exam, she won full Chinese government scholarships for studying abroad, and studied English language and literature at the University of Toronto for three years.
“I’m serving as a bridge.” Su said. “Now I have this position in an American university and serve as in ideal vehicle for promoting this kind of association and developing this type of relationship with China. I feel very fortunate, really. It’s a lot of work, but its also very rewarding for me because I feel that I’m making a significant contribution to developing this wonderful relationship.”
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