University to open ‘home away from Penn’ in China

China is playing an increasingly important global role economically, socially, and culturally, and has become a significant focal point for researchers and students at Penn. But the only way to deeply know and understand the country—and be able to bring that knowledge back to classrooms on campus—is to have people on the ground in China, says Wharton Professor of Marketing Z. John Zhang.

“If you don’t have ‘boots on the ground’ and fly in and fly out, you’re always in the air and looking at China from miles away,” Zhang says. “To really understand China up close and give our students a really complete experience, we need to go there, we need to have a facility.”

The University plans to provide this complete experience with the opening of the Penn Wharton China Center (PWCC), which will be a nucleus for researchers, students, and alumni who seek to study or conduct research in China, or who have put down roots in that part of the world. The Center, which officially opens its doors in the Central Business District of Beijing in March of 2015, will also expose ideas and innovations from researchers across Penn to an audience in China.

“There is no better illustration of the Penn Compact 2020’s global impact than the opening of the Penn Wharton China Center in Beijing and the opportunity it provides for the global exchange of ideas,” says Penn President Amy Gutmann. “Penn students and faculty visiting China can explore research partnerships, study abroad programs, and high-level academic exchanges at the Center, and can share their expertise with others in their fields. And a physical Center in Beijing will provide a ‘home away from Penn’ for our many alumni, parents, and friends in China through alumni events, admissions resources, and networking opportunities.”

According to Zhang, who is faculty director of the Center, the PWCC will be staffed by four full-time employees who will help researchers do everything from making connections in the country to conducting literature searches in Chinese. The facility will be state-of-the-art, with a classroom and a telepresence, so researchers, students, and alumni can connect with people around the world.

“To really do the dissemination of knowledge, to energize our alumni base in China, to maintain contact with all kinds of different institutions, and to do this with consistent, uniform branding in China, we need a facility on the ground,” Zhang says. “China is really hot at this point and is growing very fast, and our students are very interested in China. There are lots of research opportunities in China, so we want to make sure our faculty members really have the best facility and environment to do research.”

Though Wharton is in the name of the Center, Zhang cites other schools—from the Perelman School of Medicine to the School of Arts & Sciences—where faculty and students are involved in research on or about China.

“The Center will not only enhance Penn’s engagement with China but also impact the entire Penn community,” says Provost Vincent Price. “It will create a vital hub for students, faculty, staff, and alumni across all 12 schools, whether they live in China, travel to China for study or research, or benefit from the Center’s programs here on our Philadelphia campus.”

Zhang says the goal in the first year is to get the Center up and running and ensure the facility is well-used for classes, conferences, and gatherings.

He echoes Price’s point that the Center will benefit the entire Penn campus.

“Everybody on campus should be involved in the Center in some way,” Zhang says. “Integrating across different schools and the idea of embracing the world and bringing the world back to campus—those are two very powerful ideas.”

Penn Wharton China Center