School of Engineering partners with Changchun University

By Kevin Graham

A series of partnerships spanning the Pacific is beginning to make students interested in automotive engineering applications, from China to Oakland University.

The latest of these agreements involves the Changchun University of Technology. Changchun, a city in the northeastern province of Jilin, is a major hub of the Chinese automotive industry.

Lianxiang Yang, a professor in the mechanical engineering department at OU, explained the shared automotive connection of the two regions.

“Oakland University is located in the automotive center in North America, and Changchun is the capital city of the Jilin province and is also an automotive city,” he said. “The First Automotive Manufactory of China is one of the two largest automotive manufactories and is located in the city. The faculty members of both universities have similar research interests and the students are very (interested) in automotive engineering.”

Gary Barber, also a professor in mechanical engineering, coordinates the program with Yang. He said Changchun University’s president, Pan Fulin, first approached OU about developing a “two plus two” program about two and-a-half years ago.

In the program, students take their first two years of classes in China before transferring to OU for their junior and senior years.

Upon completion of the program, students receive a bachelor’s degree from both universities.

Changchun joins two other OU partner universities in Beijing.

The program is currently attracting both mechanical and computer engineering majors.


New frontiers

Previously, the engineering department had only dealt with graduate students.

“Graduate students specialize only in engineering, mathematics and science courses, so communication hasn’t been much of an issue,” Barber said.

For the first time in the last year, five engineering undergraduate students came to OU from Beijing.

This year, 15 more students have joined them from both Changchun and Beijing.

Barber said educating undergraduate students presents a different set of challenges.

“At undergrad level, to get a degree from OU or any other U.S. university, the students have to pass the English writing requirements and to complete all of our general education requirements,” Barber said. “Students do better in their engineering classes than they do in their general education classes.”

Despite communication challenges, Barber said most students in the program average a 3.0 GPA and are extremely motivated.


A global profession

Barber said having international students in class helps other OU students learn to work in an industry that is increasingly spread throughout the globe.

“Engineering is becoming a global profession,” he said. “Engineers now interact with other engineers at various points in the world. Just by having students in our classrooms from other countries, this will help our students become more globally aware.”

The enrollment of these students also brings a new source of revenue to the university. Barber said engineering enrollments tend to go up and down with the state of the automotive industry in Michigan.

“They’re on their way back up now, but they’re still far from our peak,” Barber said. “We do have available seats for students.”


Prepping for expansion

Beginning fall 2014, Barber expects roughly 100 students from the partner universities to enroll at OU.

They expect the new Engineering Center, which is scheduled to be completed by July or August 2014, to provide a supportive environment for the students.

Yang hopes the university’s plan for new housing will be enough to accommodate the newcomers.

“A problem might be a shortage in the housing space according to the current situation. But I believe OU is planning to build more student apartments, and we can also help these international students find apartments (surrounding) the campus,” Yang said.


Contact Senior Reporter Kevin Graham via email at [email protected]