VCU President Rao in China, 2014

The Year of the Ram

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VCU is embarking on a bold initiative to build and strengthen research and educational connections in China. This initiative is not only a direct reflection of our standing as a truly global university, but also Quest for Distinction’s aim to prepare VCU students for the 21st-century global environment.

For much of the past decade, VCU focused its involvement in China on two institutional partnerships — Fudan University and Beijing Foreign Studies University. While these two partnerships have been wonderfully successful, we need to do more to fully leverage our opportunities in China.

Our new initiative will focus on expanding our potential partners and increasing our internal support structures for engagement with China, while also investing more in curricular and research efforts there. This initiative is not meant to replace work already underway — there are outstanding examples of faculty involvement in China in almost every school at VCU. Instead, our plans seek to complement and build upon our existing relationships and networks.

As a growing world power, China is an obvious place to look to expand our academic efforts. China has the world’s largest population and the world’s second largest economy. Educational opportunities are also growing by leaps-and-bounds in China, with enormous state investment in STEM-H fields and growing popularity of U.S.-style educational programs. China now has more students in the U.S. than any other nation — 31 percent of all foreign students enrolled in our country are from China, a number well over 200,000. We need to bring more of these students to VCU, and we also need to seek new opportunities for VCU students and faculty in China.

It is only fitting that we make next week, the week of Chinese New Year on Feb. 19, the official kick off for our China initiatives. According to the traditional Chinese calendar, an animal is used to represent each year. This year on the Chinese calendar is the “Year of the Sheep.” It’s impossible to miss the association with our mascot, and I think we should declare this to be the “Year of the Ram” for this university as a symbol of our new focus on China.

You will likely see more of the “Year of the Ram” theme in the coming months, including a number of activities designed to promote our desire for greater engagement in China, both on campus and in China itself.

While our “Year of the Ram” this year will mark the start of a universitywide effort to expand our engagement with China, our work will continue well past the next 12 months, and will involve our faculty, students and alumni. I look forward to working with all of you as we increase our footprint in China and continue VCU’s tradition of forward-thinking global engagement.