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China-focused education programs in Illinois bring U.S. and China closer
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An Illinois university has been making great strides in building itself into the center for China- focused education programs, boasting several joint degree programs with prestigious Chinese universities plus about 100 Chinese students on its campuses in the United States.

"There is no better way than education programs to bring the two countries closer and make the world a better place," said Dr. William Carroll, President of Benedictine University (BenU), a private liberal arts school located in Lisle and Springfield, Illinois.

Carroll talked about how it all began in an exclusive Xinhua interview in Chicago.

In 2000 when Carroll was planning to develop the University from regional to international, he turned to China. "It was just a hunch," Carroll said. "I wanted our university to focus on one country and be the Midwest expert on that country so we can be the doorway for business going to that country and vice versa. China caught my attention. China was an upcoming market and Chinese people shared with us the emphasis on education. It's the best hunch I've ever had."

Benedictine University soon established the China Institute, which has since been named the Asia Institute, to launch his vision. The University received permission from the United States Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools to offer Western graduate courses in China, followed by the approval from China's Ministry of Education (MOE).

The University offers Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Science in Management Information Systems (MSMIS) degrees in China, in partnership with their Chinese counterparts. Their diploma is certified by the MOE. Now the University is expanding to include undergraduate and graduate degree programs that allow students to study both in China and the United States.

"We want to establish our university as the center for China- focused education programs," said Carroll. "We started our MBA and MSMIS programs in China with Shenyang University of Technology and Shenyang Jianzhu University in 2003 and 2004. Now, nearly 1,000 students in China have participated in the master's degree programs from Benedictine University without ever leaving the country."

BenU's master's degree programs in China include 16 courses based on its curriculum in the United States. As part of its unique partnership with Chinese institutions, half of the courses are taught by the Chinese partner universities, and the other half by BenU's faculty sent from the United States.

John Carroll, Director of Benedictine University's Asia Faculty Center who teaches Strategies and Marketing in China, said to Xinhua: "I'm very impressed by the work ethic of the Chinese students. They want to learn and be part of the global economy. BenU's programs prepare them to work in companies that are foreign owned or do business with foreign countries."

Because of their programs in China, according to Carroll, BenU is seen as a "Chinese friendly" school. The University has now enrolled about 100 students from China, a phenomenal development given that there was not a single student from China several years ago.

Ai Ren, 30, who came from Shenyang in 2007 and obtained his MSMIS degree from BenU's campus in Lisle the following year, told Xinhua: "I had a most enjoyable learning experience at BenU. Professors at the University were very generous with their time and help to me and the size and environment of BenU was great for studies."

Benedictine University was established in 1887. It offers programs in sciences, business, health, education, and management, with a 13:1 student-to-teacher ratio. It has about 10,000 students. Among them, 70 percent are undergraduates and 30 percent graduate students. It is ranked by U.S. News & World Report for 2009 as a top university in the Midwest. Ninety-eight percent of its undergraduates either obtain full-time positions or are enrolled in graduate studies within a year of their graduation.

In addition to their initial partners, the University has now set up programs with a number of other universities including universities in Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian, Shenyang, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Xi'an, and Chengdu. They are also developing programs that allow students the opportunities to study two years in China and then two years at BenU's campus in the U.S. for undergraduate degrees or three years in the U.S. for master's degrees. BenU is working on student exchange programs in which students from each country will spend extended periods of time in the other to gain " on the ground" experiences.

To help Chinese students adjust in the United States, BenU offers English as a second language at its Abraham Lincoln English Institute at Benedictine's Springfield (Illinois) campus and, through its Asia Institute, provides a "host family" program. " Chinese students can experience American culture by interacting with local American families," said Elsie Yuen, Director of Asia Institute. "We also organize special events to showcase Chinese cultural performances and promote Chinese culture and traditions."

According to Carroll, to further establish Benedictine University as the Midwest "Center for China", the Benedictine faculty is re-designing the curriculum to reflect more emphasis on Chinese culture, literature, arts, and music.

"Our goal is for every student who passes through our doors to have had a significant experience with China--in the curriculum, through study abroad, and through interaction with our Chinese students," said Carroll. "Education programs build bridges between the U.S. and China," Carroll said. "With more understanding and collaboration, we shall establish more common ground."

(Xinhua News Agency February 28, 2011)

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