Delegates from a highly esteemed Chinese university visited The University of Texas-Pan American Oct. 10 to search for collaborative research projects, expand their partnership and possibly launch a joint degree program.
UTPA and Shandong Normal University (SDNU), located in Jinan, the capital city of Shandong province in China, have been working hand-in-hand for two years. Shandong Normal Provost Liguo An said the agreement has spurred a mutual transformation on both campuses.
"During the cooperation, the two universities have seen positive changes in our academic areas especially for our teachers and researchers," An said. "I think the most important change is between the people who manage the schools. There is an exchange of cultural ideas."
Dr. Yvonne T. Quintanilla, director of international programs for UTPA, said the visit served as a fact-finding operation for the Chinese faculty to discuss the 2+2 program, a dual degree curriculum they are considering implementing at UTPA.
"This will afford our students and staff endless opportunities including exchange and visiting programs, scholar exchange, collaborative research projects and so much more," Quintanilla said. "The 2+2 program will provide Chinese students from Shandong Normal the opportunity to take their first two years of courses at their home institution and the last two years at UTPA. This is the first 2+2 program for UTPA."
The initiative, which is still under development, will give students an opportunity to earn bachelor's degrees from both SDNU and UTPA by studying at each university for two years. Lianyong Zhou, SDNU's international office director, said it is crucial to establish these overseas relationships.
"Shandong Normal has been very active with these international collaborations. We have learned a lot from these partnerships," Zhou said. "Every year hundreds of our students and even our faculty go to different universities and all this helps us to push forward. It helps our teaching and our scientific research."
Initially, the 2+2 curriculum will only be offered to Chinese students. If it proves successful, then UTPA students will also become a part of the exchange program. The joint degree plan was started seven years ago in the United States and An said the most successful model is under way at East Tennessee State University.
"The program works very well for both sides. Each year we send 20 to 30 students to Tennessee and the East Tennessee University students also come to Shandong Normal to study our Chinese language, Chinese culture and Chinese history," An said. "That is a great benefit."
The delegates spent the day touring campus and speaking with UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen and deans from each college, trying to determine which degrees will be the most compatible with SDNU's degree tracks.
"Our students would stand to benefit tremendously from them being here. Shandong Normal officials are forming a network system and mentorships for our students and professors," Quintanilla said. "It is exciting. There are all kinds of wonderful possibilities."
Quintanilla said the 2+2 program is in the initial phase, where both sides are simply exchanging ideas. The next step would be to finalize a degree plan and then recruit Chinese students to enroll in the UTPA programs.