Students arrive for SWUFE-UD partnership

Life is slightly different this year for Tingyu Zhang. In the fall of 2022, he was a college student living in Chengdu, China, one of the country’s largest cities with more than 15 million residents. Now, Zhang is navigating college life in Newark, Delaware, which still has a long way to go before reaching its first million residents.

Zhang, a junior studying management information systems, and two other students, Yihong Chen and Zhixiang Chen, are among the first of a cohort of Chinese students taking part in a new joint educational institute. They, and hundreds of others, can study in China and Delaware through a partnership between the University of Delaware and the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics (SWUFE) in Chengdu.

The collaboration goes back to 2010, according to Jennifer Gregan, an associate professor of marketing at Lerner College who serves as senior assistant dean of global programs and partnerships. About 10 to 15 SWUFE students from various majors began coming to Newark each year to complete their degrees.

That arrangement has now expanded and become more formal after the joint educational institute launched in fall 2020. Amid the chaos and forced remote learning of the coronavirus pandemic, it was a challenging time to get underway, but the program has persisted and flourished. About 180 Chinese students join each fall, Gregan said, signing up to earn degrees from both UD and SWUFE over four years. Now that global travel has resumed, the hope is that more students will take advantage of the opportunity to study two or three of those years in China and then finish up in Newark. Meanwhile, UD professors travel to China each year to teach at the campus there.

The new system narrows the available majors to operations management, management information systems and finance.

It amounts to an outpost of UD, a world away. “We have 700 UD students in China, and I think nobody knows about that,” Gregan said, and added, “It’s very exciting.”

This year’s three students traveling to Newark is just a small beginning to what administrators hope will be an increasing number in future years. (One, Zhixiang Chen, is here for a dual degree through the joint educational institute, although he did not complete UD classes his first two years like other students under the new arrangement.)

As they settle in, the three SWUFE students have already benefited from the ability to connect with other international students and get advice on adjusting to the culture.

They got to explore regional culture by going to a Phillies game, although Zhang couldn’t go because of a quiz. Associate Professor of Accounting Brian Greenstein, who previously taught in China with the program, introduced them to America’s pastime and Philly favorites like cheesesteaks.

The value of the partnership

A shared education like this comes with practical perks. For example, the students can deepen their knowledge of English, especially as the language is used in a business context with terms like “liquidity” and “asset management” and so on, Gregan said, noting that English is used in business even within China.

She pointed out many other advantages to the partnership, including new experiences and better job opportunities for students, the injection of fresh perspectives into the Newark campus, and a melding of two strong educational systems.

“[Chinese] education is fantastic, these students, they excel,” Gregan said. “… It’s sort of bringing the strength of the Chinese education and the strength of the U.S. western education together, and so you get the best of both worlds.”

The three Chinese students said the chance to expand their worlds and try new experiences was an important factor influencing their decision to study here.

“I’m just a person eager to try something new,” Zhang said. He’s been thinking about studying abroad since middle school and started learning English at a young age.

“I like meeting people from different areas, from different cultural backgrounds,” he said, and in the States, people come from all over the world to study.

Zhixiang Chen said he had heard good things about studying abroad from friends and fellow SWUFE students about the UD opportunity. He’s hoping for a chance at a better career.

“Professors here, they are very helpful,” he said.

Yihong Chen, studying management information systems, also said he liked the teaching style of the UD professors at SWUFE, who taught a lot of practical skills. He sees the opportunities available here to specialize in data science as another point in favor of the program.

The international experience also benefits faculty, Gregan said. Business is global, and even students who graduate and never leave Delaware may be interacting with people from all over the world as part of their jobs.

“We need faculty that can help students develop that global competence,” she said.

She called this a tremendous professional development opportunity and thinks the program may get a word-of-mouth boost as faculty share what it was like.

The students, too, could be important ambassadors.

“I think it’s going to be a great experience,” Zhang said.

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