Penn Wharton China Center Reflects Upon Two Years of Progress and Growth

On launching the Penn Wharton China Center in Beijing, in March of 2015, University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann said, “We are building on Penn's history of broad, deep engagement with China and creating a Center that provides an impressive infrastructure and significant resources to augment Penn's many collaborations and partnerships with great Chinese educational institutions. The Center represents another major milestone in the Penn Compact 2020’s vision of bringing Penn to the world and the world to Penn.”

In the more than two years since, the Penn Wharton China Center has kept up a busy pace aligned with that mission and it can claim a long list of accomplishments along the way.

“Our primary goal at the PWCC has been to build relationships in China that support and engage students, faculty and alumni and promote Penn’s reputation as a thought leader and premier research University,” said Z. John Zhang, director of the Penn Wharton China Center and the Tsai Wan-Tsai Professor of Marketing at Penn’s Wharton School.

“The energy and enthusiasm have been the biggest outcomes. Media exposure in the past two years has more than doubled the cumulative exposures Penn and Wharton had got before the Center opened and with incremental activities we’ve been able to generate maximum impact and interest among alumni and friends and across schools at Penn,” said Zhang. “The Center has been a real force of integration, working with a broad section of alumni, faculty and staff from all 12 schools.”

Knowledge-sharing events are at the core of the Center’s engagement.


Beginning with the kickoff in March through September 2015, Penn hosted a series of talks and programs culminating in the David and Lyn Silfen University Forum in Beijing, with Gutmann in a wide-ranging discussion on globalization, innovation and engagement between the U.S. and China with former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell; Li Zhaoxing, former Chinese foreign minister; Zhang Xin, CEO and co-founder of SOHO China Ltd.; and Howard Marks, co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Management LLC and a Wharton alumnus.

The Center, which has five full-time staff members, has since welcomed more than 10,000 guests and participants through its doors and hosted 213 events, averaging seven a month with some events lasting three to four days. At the PWCC, Penn has been host to Chinese government officials, international dignitaries, alumni, students, staff and academic experts and administrators from Penn and its Chinese counterparts.

The Center’s staff has planned and coordinated activities ranging from seminars of several hundred and bilingual, transcontinental events utilizing the Center’s teleconferencing and translation facilities; to alumni gatherings and one-on-one meetings.

The Center’s spaces were designed to be flexible and serve many purposes. Two years ago the Center’s large presentation room was even transformed into a hands-on dental-training clinic with Syngcuk Kim, a professor and associate dean for global affairs and continuing education at Penn’s School of Dental Medicine, leading a session on modern endodontic therapy complete with state-of-the-art operating microscopes and instruments used in surgical and non-surgical treatment of the tooth. In the intervening time, Penn Dental has since offered two additional hand-on courses at the Center, offering dental training to Chinese clinicians.

In April, Gary Hua was named managing director of the Penn Wharton China Center in Beijing. Hua, who is a Wharton alumnus, said he will enhance these relationships with industry and government leaders, as well as with Penn alumni, students and friends.

Over the last 24 months, the Center has also helped to facilitate Penn’s commitment to collaboration and innovation through the Penn China Research and Engagement Fund. Positioning the Penn Wharton China Center as a preeminent space in China for knowledge exchange and consultation, Penn CREF provides matching funds over five years for projects that create knowledge in partnership with Chinese researchers, deepen the contributions of Penn faculty members to the understanding of China, increase Penn’s engagement in China or develop innovative educational and curricular programs for Penn students and lifelong learners. 

As of January 2017, CREF has supported 25 projects at a funding level of about $4.85 million, enabling collaborations between Penn faculty members across schools with more than 55 unique Chinese institutional partners and 16 organizations around the world. Many of these projects are already reporting impressive progress on the Fund’s goals of research, engagement, innovation and impact.

These impactful projects range in scope from working to improve the quality of Chinese health-care delivery and studying healthy and efficient means for food production, to exploring the business and political economies of China, looking at China’s technological innovation landscape from robotics to airport planning and exploring the legal and regulatory framework around infrastructure, competition and entrepreneurship in China. There are also projects that tackle China’s urban development challenges from excessive energy consumption to soaring house prizes, addressing urban planning, design and public policy. A fifth category of projects addresses interest in China’s media and culture.

The financial support via CREF, along with the logistical assistance and technical resources afforded through PWCC, have helped transform the work Yuchi Han and colleagues from Penn Medicine have done in China, where the team has offered a two-day hands-on advanced cardiac imaging training course for more than 60 students.

​​​​​​​“The support from CREF and PWCC has been critical for our work in China,” said Han, assistant professor of medicine at Penn's Perelman School of Medicine. “The wonderful staff supported our course on advanced cardiac imaging last July. The service from booking to delivery was impeccable. Based on last year’s success, we have planned a second one this year. Our course is the first to be conducted primarily in Chinese in China, and we are poised to help lead the spread of the use of advanced clinical cardiac imaging in China. In addition, CREF supported research enabled us to have formal engagements with the leading academic medical centers in China including hospitals in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu. We had a delegation from Penn cardiology and radiology visiting these top hospitals for academic exchange on a two-week long trip last July.”

Another example where CREF and PWCC support has been felt is the PennDesign China Research program.

“China is undergoing the biggest urbanization process in history, and the existence of the Center and its related research program has enabled us to engage with this phenomenon in a meaningful way,” said Richard Weller, a co-investigator on the project and the Martin and Margy Meyerson Chair of Urbanism and professor and chair of landscape architecture in the School of Design at Penn. “Thus far we’ve completed one major study which is a environmental and economic planning study for the future of the Jing-Jin-Ji megaregion (Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province). This involved large scale infrastructure and development proposals and takes the form of a report  presented to high-level government officials.

“Research is always a slower and more meandering path than first predicted, and the CREF, thankfully, is affording us that route,” Weller said.

The design studio, which allows Penn students to do on-site research in China, is also in line with the Center’s goal of bringing Penn to the world and creating opportunities for meaningful student engagement.

“Right now,” said Weller, “we are working at an opposite scale and sending researchers and students into an informal worker’s village in Guangzhou. We are examining the tiny details of how people live their daily lives and asking if cheap design responses could improve the quality of life. This work will be exhibited at the Shenzhen architecture Biennale in December, an event expected to attrack over 1 million visitors.”  

Since its launch, PWCC has supported a number of visits from faculty and students. This spring, as part of a semester-long academic Penn Global Seminar,  a group of 13 students in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science travelled to Beijing and Shanghai for an intensive week-long exploration of engineering and technology innovations happening in China. Penn Abroad and PWCC provided support and services in preparation for and during the students’ visit.

PWCC is playing a pivotal role in connecting students, faculty and alumni.

May graduate Henok Abraham said the Engineering Global Seminar this spring changed his world view and impacted his professional outlook.

“During my participation in the China Global Immersion Course, I had the pleasure of attending a networking event at the Penn Wharton China Center,” said Abraham. “It was by far the most eye-opening portion of the trip. It was great to see the international impact and presence Penn has. The opportunity to network with Penn alumni was an amazing experience that changed the way I approach career planning.

“There were several entrepreneurs in the group and hearing how they navigated through education and the corporate world to launch their endeavors was inspiring. There was an overall theme of developing self awareness and talking calculated risks, and that has altered my approach to both personal and professional decision making. It was also empowering to see how a Penn education prepared these entrepreneurs, engineers and business leaders to adapt to a drastically different environment in China.​​​​​​​

“The Penn Wharton China Center felt like a piece of home half way around the world and provided an essential resource for keeping the Penn network connected in Beijing. As an aspiring entrepreneur, the trip and visit to PWCC showcased the viability of doing international business and broadened my scope for addressable markets in developing future products or services.”

In addition to supporting student academic exchange through the global seminars, efforts supporting students have included Penn Global and International Student and Scholar Services’ Forerunner Program at PWCC, an international student pre-orientation program in China for new students from China.

Now a rising-junior in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business in the Wharton School and the School of Arts & Sciences at Penn, Yusi Wang, of Shenyang in China’s Liaoning province, attended the inaugural Forerunner Program at PWCC in the summer of 2015.

“The Forerunner Program opened many doors for me,” said Wang, “new friends, wonderful professors and administrators and great opportunities. My mother, who participated in the program with me two years ago, now has access to a group of parents and staff at the Penn Wharton China Center, whom she can turn to whenever she has questions. Having returned to volunteer at Forerunner in 2016, I saw that the program continues to grow and impact more and more students bridging Penn and China.” 

The Forerunner China program has continued to grow from 150 particpants in 2015 to more than 250 this year, with 150 new graduate and undergraduate students and 56 others including new parents, current students, current parents, alumni and Penn ISSS staff.

“When we opened the PWCC in March 2015, we knew it represented a new chapter in Penn’s history,” said Amy Gadsden, executive director for Penn Global and Penn China Initiatives.  “With all 12 Schools and 120 faculty and 1,328 undergraduate, graduate and Wharton executive educationi students participating in activities in the PWCC since it opened, we can see that there is a strong demand for global engagement across the University.

“With the opening of the PWCC and the launch of the Penn CREF program, Penn is emerging as a leading U.S .institution for understanding cutting edge issues in China, from health and health care, to urbanization and the built environment, to sources of technological innovation. The PWCC has been a tremendous catalyst to advance Penn research and educational programs.”

Beyond the student and faculty engagement, Penn’s visible presence in China, the PWCC has also provided a home for Penn’s many alumni in China. Penn’s 12 schools have more than 15,000 alumni in Greater China, with alumni clubs in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei and Singapore.

“The Center has galvanized our Chinese alumni community,” said Weller, “and I think many of them see the center as a sign that Penn is serious about relations in that part of the world.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

“Looking back,” Zhang said, “I have to say that PWCC is truly a University-wide collective effort that involves hundreds of staff members from Penn and Wharton facilities, finance, communications, IT, legal, global initiatives, external affairs, HR and many others. We not only have broad grass root support, but also enjoy strong backing from Penn leadership as well as from the Wharton dean. For all of us directly involved in PWCC, we are acutely aware of the fact that we are building something bigger than any one of us and we are treading uncharted waters. In short, we are on a mission and we shall accomplish that mission.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

PWCC Oct 2016