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UW Advance helps doctoral students from China learn and grow in Madison

Smiling UW Advance students

When 33 PhD students from China’s Nanjing Agricultural University enrolled in the UW Advance program, they knew they’d get to discuss exciting ideas with faculty, researchers, and graduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. This was their first taste of the Wisconsin Idea, the notion that the university’s knowledge should extend beyond the classroom, benefiting people around the world.

UW Advance is a customizable program for international college students eager to experience life and learning at an American university. It includes English instruction, specialized lectures and seminars, cultural activities, field trips, and other opportunities to get acquainted with UW–Madison. The experience typically lasts about four weeks, and students return home with skills they can use in their studies and their careers.

Participants like microbiology student Zhepu Ruan came away with ideas about how to enhance their scholarly work and solve important problems. Ruan appreciated the program’s opportunities to interact with researchers.

“I made friends, learned new things, and met researchers and graduate students in soil science and plant science. We exchanged ideas and discussed CRISPR-Cas9, a technology for editing the genome. This led to ideas for my own research, and now I hope to do a postdoctoral program at UW–Madison,” she explains.

A transformative trip

Ruan isn’t the only Nanjing student who’d like to return to Madison. That’s music to the ears of Jeff Russell, UW–Madison’s vice provost for lifelong learning and dean of the Division of Continuing Studies, the home base of the UW Advance program.

“You are always a Badger and always welcome here at UW–Madison,” he told students at a Feb. 9 luncheon honoring their achievements. “You are creating knowledge, and you’re working to solve the problems of the world. We are thankful to have met you.”

He also noted that many people from the campus and the broader community have helped make the program a success, including the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Engineering, the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, the School of Veterinary Medicine, and local farmers.

At a luncheon reception celebrating completion of the program, students received certificates and an inspirational send-off from Christine Inthachith and Monique Lu, UW Advance’s director and assistant director.  As students, faculty, farmers, and other friends of the program dined, a slideshow drew chuckles and helped the group relive key experiences from the program, including academic presentations, English classes, social events with UW–Madison students, and field trips. See below for a photo gallery of the luncheon.

Discoveries in the field

Learning in the field, whether in research labs or livestock barns, is an integral part of the UW Advance experience. Program participant Peng Yu gained valuable knowledge about the differences between the American and Chinese agricultural systems. He hopes to transform academic knowledge into practical applications for farmers in China.

“At home, a lot of the agricultural work is done by hand, with simple tools. There is not a lot of high-level technology being used,” he says. “I was able to see some of these technologies and learn a lot from the farmers we met.”

Two of these farmers were Brian and Cory Brown, a father-and-son team who graduated from UW–Madison’s Farm and Industry Short Course program. They now run Sunburst Dairy in nearby Belleville.

In addition to discussing differences between Chinese and American agriculture, the Browns gave the students a taste of their farm’s day-to-day operations.

“We took them on a tour of our facilities, milked cows and showed how they’re fed, introduced them to the baby cows, and even had them meet our pair of llamas, which I’m sure they’ll never forget,” Brian says.

It’s one of many warm memories the students took back to China, where they’ll continue their scholarly journeys as brand-new Badgers.

For more information on UW Advance and Continuing Studies’ other programs for international students, contact Christine Inthachith at christine.inthachith@wisc.edu.