China is the world’s leading energy consumer, the world’s biggest producer of carbon dioxide, the world’s largest car market, and has had the world’s fastest-growing economy since the mid-’90s.
And Nazareth College is keeping a close watch on it all. Committed to a diversified campus and an education that keeps step with global trends, the College is positioning itself to fully embrace the realities of China’s rising dominance in the 21st century.
“We have to expose our students to an increasingly complex world, with the understanding that the U.S. is no longer the unilateral powerhouse out there,” says Nevan Fisher, Ph.D., assistant professor of history and Asian studies. “There are going to be multiple points of power, and China will be one of the superpowers. We need to demonstrate how to appreciate China on its own terms—not to see it as an enemy or competitor, but as a partner.”
To do that, Nazareth has been deepening its connections with China through admissions recruitment trips, faculty exchanges, and study-abroad experiences.
Instrumental to these efforts from the beginning has been Yuanting Zhao, professor of theatre arts. She grew up in Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province, and has maintained many personal and professional relationships since her days as a student and instructor at the Shandong College of Arts. In recent years—employing these relationships and those of her colleagues to find hosts—Zhao, Fisher, and other faculty members have made annual visits to China to start collaborations with universities considered a good match for Nazareth.
So far, the College has signed memoranda of understanding with four institutions. One of them is the China Academy of Art in Beijing, known for being the country’s most influential, innovative school of fine arts and whose international partnership with Nazareth is a first for the university.
Chinese students recruited to campus would boost the Asian population, now at roughly two percent among both undergraduates and graduates. Deborah Dooley ’75, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, points out that they would also be introduced to a broad-based liberal arts education—a concept only beginning to make its way into that part of the world. “A liberal arts focus is transformative in that it enables us to be intellectually flexible, to think from many different perspectives,” she explains, adding that this is a particularly important skill for the increasing number of Chinese students applying to graduate programs in the U.S.
One student from China has made it to the Nazareth campus so far. A trumpet player, he is participating in a five-year program that has students start out by studying intensive English at the College’s American Language Institute.
The hope is to have about 10 students arrive each year, so that there are roughly 40 on campus at all times. Though recruitment up to now has focused mostly on visual and performing arts, efforts expanded into math and science this fall and are expected to reach into every major someday.
Last spring, 21 students from various majors at Nazareth took an 18-day trip to China to see for themselves what Fisher calls “this incredible country of contradictions,” a reference to its mixture of deep-rooted traditions, progressive accomplishments, sprawling farmlands, and futuristic skylines.
Fisher adds that “there is really no substitute” for firsthand experience, which on this journey included hikes on sacred mountains, a tour of the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibition, a walk on the Great Wall of China, boat rides in Zhouzhuang (considered “the Venice of China”), and two free days in ultra-modern Shanghai, among other highlights. “In my classes, I can give them a window on a particular time and place, but I can’t open their eyes the way the country does.”
For some, the people more than the places made a lasting impression.
Ryan Rall ’10, who majored in history with minors in philosophy and Asian studies, learned more than he’d expected by his second day abroad.“It was life-changing,” he says. “You’re in a country you’ve studied so much about in books—mostly about Communism and how strict and controlled it is over there—and then you get to see that the people aren’t really that different at all. They have the same core values, they prize intelligence, they try to live peacefully. It broke a lot of the stereotypes we have. There was just this sense of understanding among humans.
“No matter what I do with my career, I’m going to be working with China,” continues Rall, who is leaning toward international law with a focus on preventing genocide or piracy. “I can see that we need to cooperate with them in the future.”
An exchange of ideas is one of the hallmarks of Nazareth’s strategic initiative to strengthen ties with China. Already, some faculty members have lectured there to students and faculty from high schools and universities, and several Chinese educators have visited Nazareth in recent months.
Mitchell Messina, associate professor of art, gave a lecture on American contemporary ceramics in March at the Shandong College of Arts. “The Chinese develop things very slowly and methodically, so there’s an integrity to the work that comes out,” he says. “They’re moving very strongly into the contemporary art world by embracing traditions and then moving forward. That’s the kind of thing we like to instill in our students.”
Zhao says such visits are key to spreading the word about the College back home: “Then people will know we exist and that we do high-quality work. Nazareth is a great place to be, and this program has a very bright future.”
Robin L. Flanigan is a freelance writer in Rochester, New York
Photos courtesy of Nevan Fisher and Yuanting Zhao.