Growing numbers of Chinese students have been seeking degrees in the United States, but a deal that Clemson University has inked with China’s top civil engineering program will also send U.S. students in the other direction.
Clemson and Tongji universities will exchange civil engineering doctoral students as part of a global partnership that underscores the importance of cooperation in solving some of the world’s toughest engineering challenges.
Students who participate will be eligible for a dual degree from both universities.
The agreement marks the first dual Ph.D. program in civil engineering that Tongji has signed with a U.S. university. Tongji is ranked No. 1 in civil engineering by China’s Ministry of Education.
Dr. Robert Jones, who is Clemson’s executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, said that the agreement could serve as a model that strengthens ties between higher education communities in the two countries.
“The agreement enables students from both sides to achieve dual enrollment and a degree in a seamless fashion,” he said. “The exchange program will expose students to cultures and work practices from the world’s two largest economies and position them for strength into the future.
“There will be tremendous engagement opportunities for our partners – state, industry and communities.”
Students who seek a dual degree will remain abroad for about two years. But students needn’t seek a degree to participate in the exchange. As part of a previous memorandum of understanding, they can also travel to do research for about two months at a time.
“The partnership is an important part of increasing the college’s and the department’s global impact and visibility,” said Dr. James Martin, chair of Clemson’s Glenn Department of Civil Engineering.
“This is what preeminent departments do. They partner with other preeminent departments.”
Andrew Brownlow, a Ph.D. candidate from Aiken, went to Tongji last summer as part of his research into maintaining subway tunnels. Tongji is in Shanghai, a city of 24 million with the world’s longest subway system.
“They have great opportunities to do research,” Brownlow said. “I made some good partnerships and had an opportunity to do some networking in one of the fastest-growing countries in the world.”
Academic advisors at both universities must approve a plan of study for each individual student.
Hongwei Huang, vice dean of the College of Civil Engineering at Tongji University, said the dual Ph.D. degree program allows faculty members in the two civil engineering programs to collaborate through the students.
“Both institutions have the opportunity to increase the number of Ph.D. graduates and promote high quality research through collaboration,” Huang said.
Dr. Wenping Gong began his Ph.D. studies at Tongji and later transferred to Clemson. He received his doctorate from Clemson in December and is now working as a post-doctoral scholar for Martin.
Gong said that he plans to return to China to complete his Ph.D. at Tongji next year and expects to join a faculty at a university in China.
“With my background at Clemson, I can do research with professors in the United States,” Gong said. “It’s perfect for me.”
Clemson students who study at Tongji will be immersed in the culture and language of a rapidly growing nation that has enormous civil engineering needs, ranging from roads, tunnels, and bridges to earthquake-resistant buildings.
“China is the second largest economy in the world and still growing at a fast pace,” said Hsein Juang, the Glenn Professor of Civil Engineering at Clemson. “There will be a lot of opportunities for engineering firms and private consultants to offer their services to the Chinese government and civil engineering industry in the coming decades.
“Having a second Ph.D. degree at Tongji will be a big plus for Clemson students providing engineering and business services in China.”
Martin said the partnership underscores that no one entity alone, including government, can develop all the sustainable solutions in an increasingly interconnected and complex world.
“Working together, we leverage our strengths for broader and more impactful solutions that benefit society,” he said.
Doctoral candidates at Tongji will have access to world-class laboratory testing facilities in various fields of civil engineering. Tongji, which is in Shanghai, now registers 18,581 full-time undergraduate students, 13,762 graduate students, and 4,279 Ph.D. candidates. Another 2,197 international students are pursuing their degrees at the university.
Tongji’s College of Civil Engineering has about 500 Ph.D. students.
The agreement will help Clemson recruit some of China’s top Ph.D. students, who will go on to become graduates of the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering, Juang said.
Those who return to China’s universities will help spread Clemson’s name around the nation’s growing higher education community, Juang said.
“That’s how you build Clemson’s international reputation,” he said.
The Clemson-Tongji agreement lasts until June 2020 with an option to renew.