Three years on: A look at the Penn Wharton China Center

The impact of the Beijing-based center and research fund has been far-reaching on campus and in China.

Amy Gutmann with Deans and Ben on the Bench
Pictured on the Ben on the Bench sculpture at the Penn Wharton China Center in Sept. 2015: Penn President Amy Gutmann (seated) with (from left to right) Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett; Penn Engineering Dean Vijay Kumar; former PennDesign Dean Marilyn Jordan Taylor; former Penn Dental Dean Denis F. Kinane; Penn Nursing Dean Antonia Villarruel; Perelman School of Medicine Dean J. Larry Jameson; Vice Provost for Global Initiatives Ezekiel Emanuel; Graduate School of Education Dean Pam Grossman; Penn Arts and Sciences Dean Steven J. Fluharty; and School of Social Policy & Practice Dean John L. Jackson Jr.

When Penn President Amy Gutmann drew up the Penn Compact 2020 with its core principles of inclusion, innovation, and impact, she set the stage to expand global engagement at Penn and to, in her words, “bring Penn to the world and the world to Penn.”

In launching the Penn Wharton China Center (PWCC) in Beijing and the Penn China Research and Engagement Fund (CREF) on March 10, 2015, she reiterated the call for social impact and global engagement.

“Engagement with communities here at home, across our country, and throughout our world—civic engagement, for short—is at the heart of the Penn Compact 2020,” said Gutmann. “Penn’s engagement in China via research, academic and student exchanges, and broad partnerships with Chinese institutions benefits Penn’s campus and community, and enhances global understanding and discovery.”

Penn is emerging as the premier institution to offer insight into the future of China.

“Three years on from the opening of the Penn Wharton China Center, Penn is witnessing deeper and more diverse engagement with China than at any time in its history,” says Vice Provost for Global Initiatives Zeke Emanuel. “With the PWCC in Beijing and campus-based organizations like the Center for the Study of Contemporary China, the Center for Global Health, and Perry World House, and the CREF fund to support individual faculty, Penn faculty are able to consider China’s role across multiple issues—everything from geopolitics, to urbanization, to health care, and the future of technology.”

Penn CREF is a five-year, $10 million competitive matching program designed to stimulate and support activity in China and engagement with PWCC. The result has been growing interest in China across all of Penn’s 12 schools. CREF-awarded research largely falls into five themes, which, in turn, are informing Penn’s ongoing and future engagement in China: health and health care; business and political economy; innovation and technology; urban development; and media, culture, and humanities.

As of January 2018, CREF has facilitated Penn’s commitment to collaboration and innovation. The fund has supported 28 proposals at a funding level of $5.4 million, enabling collaborations between Penn faculty members across schools and more than 35 unique Chinese institutional partners and seven organizations around the world.

In addition to supporting faculty research and student activities, and facilitating new relationships with Chinese institutions, PWCC also serves as a base for almost 2,000 Chinese students studying and learning on the Penn campus and more than 4,500 alumni from all over the world who call China home.

“In the past three years, PWCC has become a bustling place where our students, alumni, parents, and friends gather to learn and to exchange new ideas. It is a place for knowledge dissemination, for lifelong learning, for cutting-edge ideas, and for reminiscence of the Penn and Wharton experience. In short, it is a happening place in Beijing,” says PWCC Director John Zhang, Wharton’s Tsai Wan-Tsai Professor of Marketing.

Three years on: A look at the Penn Wharton China Center
In a large classroom at the Penn Wharton China Center, scholars from Penn’s Fox Leadership International program and Kleinman Center for Energy Policy present work in the area of U.S.-China energy and environmental cooperation as part of the Dimensions of U.S.-China Leadership conference in Oct. 2016.

“As of the end of February this year, 276 events have taken place at PWCC, and they have attracted over 17,000 alumni and friends. PWCC is also a great branding tool for Penn and Wharton,” Zhang adds. “Our study has shown that the hits from the Baidu Chinese keyword search for ‘University of Pennsylvania’ have increased from 2,780,000 for the two years and eight months duration prior to the PWCC’s opening to 3,990,000 for the two years and eight months since. The same measurements for Wharton are 972,000 and 1,300,000 respectively.”

Three years on: A look at the Penn Wharton China Center
Participating in Forerunner China, Penn graduate students Hong Zhang, Arts and Sciences, Lixu Wang, PennDesign, and Xia Qu, Penn Law, help to pre-orient admitted Penn students at the Penn Wharton China Center, July 2015.

The University also launched Forerunner China, a student-orientation program organized by Penn Global and the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS). Held at the PWCC, the program ensures that international students can hit the ground running when they arrive in Philadelphia. The program has been so successful that it was replicated in India in 2016.

Forerunner China has continued to grow, from 150 participants in 2015 to more than 240 in 2017, with 149 new graduate and undergraduate students and 99 others, including new parents, current students, current parents, alumni, and Penn ISSS staff.

Opening doors

In 2017, the Beijing-based Center brought together students, alumni, and expert faculty at dozens of events each month—more than 100 in the year—ranging from CREF symposiums to alumni receptions, gatherings, and lectures featuring industry thought leaders from the U.S. and China.

In the Global Business Week program, held in September and led by Karl Ulrich, Wharton’s vice dean for entrepreneurship and innovation, PWCC hosted 60 students from the MBA Program for Executives. The program included a week of daily on-site visits to a number of leading local corporations, such as Hua Wei, Tencent, and Alibaba, and concluded with debriefings at PWCC. The program culminated in final presentations and a panel with two local Wharton alumni, Mi Dai, from Joy Capital, and Xing Liu, from Sequoia Capital.

In addition to Penn’s standing as a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship, the University’s reputation as a research powerhouse is also represented by the CREF symposiums held at the PWCC. Many CREF projects are reporting progress on the Fund’s goals of research, engagement, innovation, and impact.

“Our physical presence in China has precipitated a transformation on the Philadelphia campus,” says Executive Director of Penn Global and Penn China Initiatives Amy Gadsden. “China-focused activities are underway in all 12 Penn schools, and for faculty in many disciplines, engagement with China is becoming critical to their research. With PWCC and CREF, Penn can stay at the forefront of China-based and China-focused research, ensuring that we become a leading institution in the study of the future of China.”

Medical advances for stroke victims

CREF is helping to expand on the long history of cooperation and engagement between medical professionals at Penn and in China: University graduates first traveled to China in the 1820s and were prominent collaborators in developing Western medicine there.

Renyu Liu, associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, received a 2018 CREF award to enhance the stroke awareness campaign in China. There, 2 million stroke patients die each year—five times the mortality rate for stroke in the United States. The program’s goal is to improve stroke awareness, rapid recognition, and reducing pre-hospital delay.

Three years on: A look at the Penn Wharton China Center
Penn’s Renyu Liu (left) and Fudan University’s Jing Zhao with a campaign poster for the Stroke 1-2-0 strategy.

“Even in urban settings, the median time to get a stroke victim to the hospital is as long as 15 hours. In rural settings, it could be days,” says R. Liu. “If this will help people recognize the signs and call the number, many lives will be saved and disabilities avoided.”

R. Liu created Stroke 1-2-0 with Jing Zhao, associate professor at Minhang Hospital affiliated with Fudan University. The campaign uses the phone number for a medical emergency in China, 120, as a stroke-recognition system, similar to the English program, FAST (Face, Arm, Speech, and Time.)

If this will help people recognize the signs and call the number, many lives will be saved and disabilities avoided.

In June of 2017, R. Liu was at PWCC to help promote a new series of videos about the Stroke 1-2-0 Rapid Response Program produced in a number of dialects. That campaign was jointly launched by the Special Action Group of the CSA, Tencent Public Welfare, Tencent News, PWCC, and Life Times.

“With the CREF funding, we plan to produce more educational videos related to Stroke 1-2-0,” says R. Liu. “We will investigate the impact of our program,”

The day after Stroke 1-2-0 was published online in Lancet Neurol in September of 2016, the program was officially endorsed by the Chinese Stroke Association (CSA), followed by widespread media and television coverage throughout China. It has since been incorporated into CSA’s practice guidelines. Hours after China Central Television broadcast a special introduction of Stroke 1-2-0 nationwide, the stations’ social media account Weibo had more than 101 million views of the program.

The potential impact of the campaign and the related research is profound, and the China-specific program has grown into an international effort.

Says R. Liu, “We have also produced a new program similar to Stroke 1-2-0—Stroke 1-1-2—which is suitable for more than 70 countries and regions across the world, helping more potential stroke victims in non-English speaking areas.”

Training for cardiac imaging

Yuchi Han’s project, now in its third year, advances cardiac imaging techniques in China and has helped to train more than 170 cardiologists, radiologists, technologists, and physicians throughout the country. Through CREF, Han and colleagues have organized a Penn China Advanced Cardiovascular Imaging Training Course held at the PWCC as part of an annual Cardiac Imaging and Cardiac Intervention Summit since 2016.

Three years on: A look at the Penn Wharton China Center
Penn Medicine’s Yuchi Han discusses case studies with cardiologists attending the 2017 Penn China Advanced Cardiovascular Imaging Training Course at the Penn Wharton China Center in Beijing.

Han, assistant professor of medicine at the School of Medicine, along with Penn Medicine’s Howard Herrmann, Dinesh Jagasia, Ron Jacob, Walter Witschey, and Harold Litt, have also given lectures and presented case studies to participants via quarterly teleconferences. The ongoing partnership with PLA General Hospital in Beijing, West China Hospital in Chengdu, and Shanghai Renji Hospital has resulted in numerous publications.

“Without the PWCC,” says Han, “we could not have organized our events so seamlessly in such a beautiful facility.”

The toxicity of lead exposure

In the area of CREF-supported health and health care, Penn’s schools of Dental Medicine, Nursing, and Veterinary Medicine are also represented.

In 2017, Penn Global awarded Nursing School Associate Professor Jianghong Liu funding to organize and teach a multidisciplinary Global Seminar, “Environmental Health Issues and Global Implications,” which introduces students to the field of environmental health using interdisciplinary methods. The course is meant to expose students to the basic principles of environmental toxicology and epidemiology.

Three years on: A look at the Penn Wharton China Center
Penn Nursing students with graduate students from Jiao Tong University at Shanghai’s Key Laboratory of Environmental and Children Health. Pictured center bottom row are, left to right, Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Jian Xu and Chong-Haui Yan, and Penn’s Jianhong Liu.

This spring, J. Liu is offering the campus-anchored course for the second time. Last May, she traveled to China with a group of students, spending two weeks in Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai, where, in collaboration with Shanghai, Jiaotong, and Southeastern universities, they studied the toxicity of environmental lead exposure. The seminar builds on J. Liu’s major NIH-funded longitudinal study in China, where, for the past 10 years, she has researched the effect of early lead exposure on 1,600 kindergarten children in the industrial city of Jintan, about 100 miles northwest of Shanghai in the eastern part of the country.

J. Liu notes that her findings have implications for nursing in both China and the U.S. “Nursing is increasingly concerned with disease prevention and health promotion,” she says. “Nurses are in a good position to teach parents about healthy lifestyle and child-rearing habits, as well as ways to reduce their children’s exposure to environmental toxins like lead.”

Three years on: A look at the Penn Wharton China Center
Penn Nursing students visit “Dr. Lead” Chong-Haui Yan’s Clinic in Shanghai. Yan is an expert in pediatric lead toxicity.

A partnership with pork producers

In another CREF-funded project, a Penn Vet-Wharton team is partnering with Chinese pork producers to study the country’s pork industry and improve China’s business practices and expansion while addressing animal welfare and food safety and embracing ideas of efficiency and sustainability. The study is led by Thomas Parsons, associate professor of swine production medicine at the New Bolton Center and director of the Swine Teaching and Research Center, and Wharton’s Anne Greenhalgh, deputy director of the Anne and John McNulty Leadership Program and an adjunct professor of management.

“We’ve certainly seen a lot of our colleagues go to China and mostly where they’ve gotten involved is in what I would call slat-level training: sharing information about how to care for pigs at the level of the barn,” Parsons says. “But through the Penn Wharton China Center, we could see a path that would allow us to get involved in China in a more unique way, offering guidance on a broader, more strategic level, and that was really attractive to us.”

Together, Parsons’ team at Penn Vet and Greenhalgh and her Wharton colleagues arranged the first gathering of a delegation of Chinese pork producers—representing three of the six largest pork producers in the country—as well as Chinese academics, at the PWCC in the spring of 2017. In September, the delegation from China traveled to Philadelphia for a mix of seminars at Wharton and hands-on learning at Pennsylvania swine farms, feed mills, and slaughterhouses.

Communicating across cultures

Last June, for the third consecutive year, the PWCC hosted a symposium on communications with Guobin Yang, the Grace Lee Boggs Professor of Sociology and Communication in the Annenberg School for Communication. The two-day symposium, “Digital Formations and Chinese Experiences,” was jointly organized by Penn, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Communication Studies, and the School of Media and International Culture of Zhejiang University. Upwards of 70 scholars from more than 30 domestic and foreign universities attended the symposium, which addressed the way institutions and practices associated with Chinese digital networks such as WeChat and Weibo have revolutionized numerous cultural, social, political, and commercial patterns in the country.

Three years on: A look at the Penn Wharton China Center
Participants in the inaugural Penn Media Scholars in China program, top row, left to right, Ran Liu, Danielle Goh, Nick Hunsicker, Gene Pak, and Prof. Guobin Yang. Bottom row, left to right, are Skylar Tang, Nick Joyner, Youlim Lee, Joy Lee, and Karen Yang at China Radio International, June 2017.

With funding from Penn Global and CREF, Yang also led the first Penn Media Scholars in China program, immersing students in China’s media industries, institutions, and citizens’ everyday media practices. Eight Penn undergraduates participated in the inaugural course. They attended the June symposium and spent three weeks between Beijing, where they were hosted by PWCC and the School of Journalism Communication of Renmin University, and the city of Hangzhou, where they were based at the College of Media and International Culture at Zhejiang University.

Nick Joyner a junior from San Antonio, Texas, who is double majoring in cinema and media studies and communication, says the course opened his eyes to new possibilities and experiences.

Three years on: A look at the Penn Wharton China Center
Left to right, Danielle Goh, Joy Lee, Karen Yang, Nick Hunsicker, Gene Pak, Nick Joyner, Youlim Lee, and Skylar Tang visit the summer palace, Beijing.

“As someone who is interested in pursuing journalism, I appreciated how the program allowed me to observe the interaction between national media and governmental systems,” he says. “Though I’ve traveled abroad, I’d never experienced something as immersive as PMSC. The local university partnerships were especially instrumental in ensuring that we could be embedded in student life. I’m also glad that we were able to visit several schools that sponsor international graduate fellowships, including Tsinghua and Peking universities, which I’ve begun considering as possible post-graduate opportunities.”

Extending Penn’s global presence

Expanding student opportunities in China is a big part of the mission of PWCC, which offers resources and services for students, faculty, and alumni. The Center also serves as a gathering place for the Penn community.

Three years on: A look at the Penn Wharton China Center
Junior Liliane Kevine Ikirezi, from Kigali, Rwanda, at the Forbidden City in Beijing.

This spring, junior Liliane Kevine Ikirezi, from Kigali, Rwanda, spent spring break studying in China as part of the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s semester-long Penn Global Seminar on “Technology in Business and Society” which included a weeklong immersion in Beijing and Shanghai.

“Being in PWCC felt like being at Penn, yet in the middle of Beijing,” says Kevine Ikirezi, “from the statue of Benjamin Franklin sitting on a bench with a Pennsylvania Gazette in his left hand to the very modern conference rooms, which look like an advanced version of the Wharton classrooms, and staff, who were very helpful in introducing us to China. While there, we spent the evening having great conversations with some Penn alumni in China. In Beijing, we also visited many companies with Penn connections, including Venustech, a network security company in China founded by 1996 Penn grad Jane Yan.”

Ikirezi is majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in entrepreneurship. “I was amazed,” she says, “by how the Penn influence and impact not only abounds in the U.S., but goes across the Pacific in China and many other countries.”

The Penn Wharton China Center has been instrumental in extending Penn’s influence and reach.

Three years on: A look at the Penn Wharton China Center
Angela Duckworth of Penn’s Department of Psychology speaks to a Chinese audience via telepresence as part of the Penn Wharton Research Frontiers Speaker Series at the PWCC.

As part of this reach, advanced teleconferencing capabilities allow for real-time exchange between the campus and the Center. The new Penn Wharton Research Frontiers Speaker Series, launched in March 2017, allows Penn experts to speak to Beijing audiences on a range of research topics across many miles. Series speakers have included School of Social Policy and Practice Dean John Jackson with former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter; MacArthur Fellow Angela Duckworth, the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences; Penn Engineering Professor Shu Yang; and Wharton Professor Kevin Werbach, among others.

Homepage photo: Three years after the launch of the Penn Wharton China Center in Beijing and the Penn China Research and Engagement Fund in March, 2015, the Center is delivering on President Amy Gutmann’s vision for ‘bringing Penn to the world and the world to Penn.” As a result, Penn is emerging as the premier institution to offer insight into the future of China.