Skip Navigation

Chinese Educators Visit Carleton for Taste of Liberal Arts

January 18, 2010

Northfield, Minn.––A group of Chinese educators recently visited Carleton College in conjunction with its stay at The Mingda Institute for Leadership Training of the University of Minnesota’s China Center.

The China Center has been hosting a delegation of Chinese university presidents and vice presidents, one of four groups sent this year by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The other three host universities are Harvard University, Yale University, and Stanford University. The delegation and their counterparts from the University of Minnesota spent Thursday, Dec. 17, at Carleton. This site visit was meant to introduce the Chinese educators to a very strong, small college and to demonstrate the diversity of American higher education.

The visit included a campus tour, interaction with Carleton faculty members and a panel led by Dean of the College, Beverly Nagel, and a presentation by Roy Grow, the Frank B. Kellogg Professor of International Relations, regarding Carleton’s long relationship with China, dating back to the early 20th Century. Grow created a display of photos situated around the room, including photos from the early work of Carleton class of 1903 member Percy Watson, who founded a hospital in the provincial town of Fenyang in Shanxi Province, which has now grown to become the largest teaching hospital in the region, with over 200 doctors on staff. While Carleton’s early presence in China also included missionary activities, more recent relationships have focused on cultural exchange, language training, and educational partnerships.

Grow was followed by Professor of Chinese Language and Literature and Chair of Asian Studies, Mark Hansell, who reflected on the growing interest in Chinese language at Carleton. Twenty years ago, he said, only about 5% of his students had been exposed to Chinese language before college. Now, the percentage is closer to 50% and Chinese has become one of the most popular language choices for Carleton students. Professor Seungjoo Yoon of Carleton’s history department also did his presentation in Mandarin and discussed the virtue of small class sizes and the collegial relationship that faculty can form with students when the faculty-student ratio is 9 to 1. One Chinese vice president interjected that the average undergraduate class size at his institution is 500 students, so the contrast was evident. Professor Cindy Blaha of the department of physics and astronomy spoke about her astronomy research and praised the work done by several of her current student from China, who came to the college with excellent preparation.  Professor Mike Hemesath of the economics department rounded up the panel’s presentations by reflecting on his own undergraduate studies at St. John’s University and his subsequent graduate studies at Harvard, emphasizing that an undergraduate education at a small, private liberal arts college can be a great preparation for later study at a larger research university. He also thanked the Chinese educators for sending him so many excellent economics majors, since economics is a favorite choice of international students.

Several of the presenters gave their talks in Mandarin, but Ms. Kanting Ji of the University of Minnesota also provided excellent translation. During the question and answer period that followed the panel, several Chinese educators quizzed Carleton’s faculty on the balance of teaching to research in a small college, since the perception in China is that the best research is conducted at the largest and most powerful universities and certainly not at small, purely undergraduate institutions. There were also questions about how a college like Carleton is funded, since the best Chinese universities are usually funded by the government. This was a quick visit, but plenty of questions remained for future exploration and Mr. Yuedong Zhou promised to continue the conversation on the bus back to the Twin Cities.

In parting, the head of the delegation presented the College with a gift: a set of two golden Beijing 2008 Olympic Medallions in a beautiful display box, saying that he hoped this visit would be the catalyst for future partnerships in the years to come.