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SRU approves Chinese schools pact

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University has signed letters of understanding with three secondary schools in China to provide the framework for educational and cultural exchange. SRU will recruit graduates from the schools, and China will send 20 English teachers to SRU in 2011 for a workshop focusing on English teaching methods.

Susan Hannam, SRU dean of the College of Health, Environment and Science, traveled to China Oct. 8-15 to deliver the letters of understanding to Jinling and Hongda senior high schools and Haining No. 1 Middle School.

"Rather than cast a broad net for all of China, we decided to go into select areas where we have connections through our Chinese faculty and build long-term relationships with just a few schools," Hannan said.

Robert Smith, SRU president, signed the letters of understanding. A letter of understanding is a formal, written letter that reviews the terms of an agreement and provides a blueprint for a contract to be issued.

Hongbo Zhou, SRU assistant professor of computer science, and George Brown, professor of political science, went to China with Hannam. Zhou is from China. Brown is SRU's director of Asian studies and has studied in China and speaks Chinese.

The SRU educators emphasized SRU's computer science and geography, geology and environment curriculums because Chinese faculty suggested these were areas that would interest Chinese students. The team made it clear that all other programs would be open to their students.

Hannam said all of the institutions would benefit from more collaboration between East and West.

"English is important in China," she said. "A lot of students want to come here or to the U.K. or Australia to study. If the fit is right, we'd love for them to come to Slippery Rock University. Their presence on campus would foster greater awareness and understanding of cultural differences, which is important for American-born students because the world is becoming smaller. Hopefully our students will get to know them and connect."

Preparing students to contend with complex cultural trends that will affect their personal and professional lives is one of the five global trends addressed in the University's strategic plan: 2025 and beyond.

SRU has 86 international students, including three from China, enrolled currently but has never had an articulation agreement with a Chinese high school. SRU has a partnership with a Japanese high school, Jissen Joship Gakuen, an all-girls school in Tokyo.

SRU will host the Chinese English Teachers' Summer Institute July 23-Aug. 6. Chinese teachers will stay in SRU's residence halls, study American teaching methods during the day and explore American culture after hours.

"What they told us is they want more access to English language and English teaching techniques," Hannam said. "We'll be doing pedagogical activities during the day and cultural/education activities in the evenings. They want to see a baseball game, for instance."

Hannam made her first trip to China over the summer to introduce the concept of an exchange to Chinese educators. She said she was surprised by the authority Chinese parents exercise over their children.

"My biggest surprise this time was learning that we really aren't recruiting students, we're recruiting their parents and grandparents," she said. "For the most part, parents tell their children what they will be studying and where."