Next year at this time a group of students from ACM colleges, accompanied by a faculty member, will arrive in one of the most exciting and dynamic cities in the world to inaugurate ACM’s newest off-campus study program – Shanghai: Perspectives on Contemporary China.
They will be living and studying in a city that is at the center of China’s remarkable economic growth and rising international influence, as well as its rapid urbanization and social challenges related to the environment, public health, and quality of life.
View of part of the Shanghai skyline.
The Shanghai Program is designed to be accessible to students with interests in a wide range of disciplines – such as anthropology, economics, environmental studies, geography, politics and international relations, sociology and urban studies, and the arts – who want to explore those interests within the context of China.
Students will take content courses in English, choosing two electives from among classes offered for international students at East China Normal University (ECNU), ACM’s partner in Shanghai. The selection this fall includes China-focused courses in international marketing, globalization and urbanization, cinema, politics, and other subjects.
The elective courses are complemented by an independent study project in the student’s area of interest, supervised by the ACM visiting faculty member, and Chinese language instruction at ECNU at the level appropriate to the student, from beginning to advanced.
“Not all ACM colleges offer Chinese, so we wanted to structure the program so students without any language background could participate,” said Joan Gillespie, ACM Vice President and Director of Off-Campus Study Programs. “At the same time, we think – and the faculty who advised us on the program stressed this point, as well – that language study is essential for students to engage in a meaningful way with the Chinese culture, so we wanted to require it as part of the curriculum.”
Nanjing Road, one of the main commercial streets in Shanghai.
There are curricular and structural similarities between the Shanghai Program and ACM’s new program in Jordan, which started up last fall. That’s by design, according to Gillespie, because the impetus for both programs came from the presidents of the ACM colleges.
“The ACM Board of Directors was interested in seeing us investigate establishing new programs in the Middle East and China, to give students and faculty opportunities in two areas that are currently prominent in world affairs,” she noted.
Development of the program in China was very much a consortial affair, with collaboration and input from faculty and administrators across the ACM every step of the way. In March 2013, 12 faculty members with interest and expertise in China, drawn from nearly every campus and a variety of disciplines, met to discuss program goals, curricular themes and structure, and potential partner institutions in China.
Informed by the recommendations from the faculty at that meeting, a delegation including Gillespie, ACM President Christopher Welna, and Macalester College economics professor Liang Ding visited four cities in China for meetings with nine potential program partner institutions to gather information.
The Liwa River winds through East China Normal University’s downtown campus.
In February 2014, with the list of potential sites for the program pared down to two finalists, another site visit was made by a group of five people: Sandra Wong (Dean of the College, Colorado College), Weihong Du (Asian Studies, Knox College), Jodi Malmgren (Director, International & Off-Campus Studies, St. Olaf College), Gillespie, and Welna.
After visiting both Nanjing and Shanghai, it was clear to the site selection delegation that Shanghai was the best location and ECNU would be an excellent partner institution for the program, according to Knox faculty member Du.
ECNU has a lot of experience with international students, who have a large presence on campus. “The classes they offer really suit our needs, so students can take courses related to their major and gain a new perspective,” said Du. The university also arranges field trips and excursions for students in the Shanghai area and to other cities in China.
“Shanghai has the potential to complement any discipline a student wants to study related to China,” she said. “It has the top level museums and arts culture, a vibrant economy, and convenient travel connections to other economically and culturally important locations in China.”
As with most ACM off-campus study programs, a visiting faculty member takes on a key role in the Shanghai Program by teaching a course, mentoring students in their independent study projects, and leading orientation activities. ACM currently has a call for applications for the position of fall 2015 Visiting Faculty Director in Shanghai, with a deadline of October 31.
The historic Bund lit up at night.
Just as the program makes study in Shanghai accessible for students from a variety of disciplines, the visiting faculty position will be open to faculty who are not specialists in China or Asian Studies. Macalester economist Ding pointed out how attractive the visiting position will be for faculty.
“First of all, you spend a semester in Shanghai, with opportunities to go other places in China and do research,” he said. “Second, you’re going to teach a class there. You might want to develop a new class related to China, and when you come back you can continue to teach the class. So it’s an opportunity to develop new curriculum.”
Hannah Schell, who teaches philosophy and religious studies at Monmouth College, is one of the faculty who participated in early discussions about the Shanghai Program. “To me, it’s a program that is smartly put together,” she said. “It’s got the pieces of what we know works in other ACM programs. There’s a nice balance of courses at the university and the ability for students to tailor [the program] to their own interests with the independent study.”
“I’m looking forward to sending students on the program,” Schell added, “and would be thrilled to go on a site visit [to Shanghai] or be part of the program someday.”
The ACM deadline for students to apply for the fall 2015 semester is March 15, although on-campus deadlines vary among the ACM colleges. Complete information is on the Shanghai Program webpage.