IC is Present in China

I went to China for two weeks in April to help create an Ithaca College presence in that country. When I arrived, I found that IC was already there!

One of the goals of the IC 20/20 strategic plan is to create a center in China. It would in some ways be similar to our long-established centers in Los Angeles and London, a place for IC students to take courses and at the same time pursue internships related to their studies. One important difference for the China Center is that its programs will be created in collaboration with a Chinese university. IC students and students in our partner university will study in the same classrooms (both in China and in Ithaca) and will work on their internships or applied projects in teams.

Our students will not only get the hands on experience that is so important to an IC education, but they will also develop skills in cross-cultural communication and teamwork. The collaborative China Center will enable our graduates to take the lead in creating the next generation of economic and cultural partnerships between our countries.

The purpose of my trip was to introduce Ithaca College to Chinese universities and to scout out potential collaborators. We visited 12 universities in five cities in 13 days and found that IC is already present in China. That’s because of people like Billy Stanton ’10. Billy was one of 22 IC students who participated in an internship program at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

A politics major, Billy had not previously had any contact with or particular interest in China. He went to Beijing for the Olympics and had a great internship centered on getting quotes for the wire news services from athletes in the water polo competitions. But while there, Billy fell in love with the country and the culture, and he returned to China within months of graduating. Billy studied Mandarin for a year on a Chinese government scholarship and is now combining further study of the Chinese language with a job teaching English in a private middle school.

Billy is right where he wants to be, as he puts it, “situated right at the epicenter of the extraordinary social transformation that is taking place in China.”

A few days after talking with Billy Stanton, we met with leaders of Renmin University in Beijing, including Dr. Zhong Xin, a professor in their School of Journalism and Communication and director of their international journalism master’s program. One of Professor Zhong’s classes participated in a one-credit course titled Media for Social Responsibility, offered by IC’s Roy H. Park School of Communications. It included a simulation of media treatment of a natural disaster that seemed to be linked to climate change. Participants came from various universities around the United States as well as China, Korea, Liberia, and Haiti.

Among the goals for each team was to examine the difference between reporting a natural disaster that is interpreted as an isolated incident versus one that may be linked to the regional effects of global climate change. They were asked to consider the local economic, social, and political factors that impact how a disaster is reported. They were asked about their responsibility to take action to ameliorate local conditions or save lives if they had the opportunity to do so versus their professional obligation to observe and report on the devastation. And they were asked to make a pitch for continued disaster coverage right through the weekend, even though their TV station was scheduled to air “the largest sports event of the year on Sunday.”

The course was led by Mara Alper, along with Park School dean Diane Gayeski ’74, assistant dean for industry relations Andy Orgel ’74, and student teaching assistant Jarrod Walczer ’14. Judges for the final presentations by the top three student teams included Bob Iger ’72, Jay Newman ’73, and Landon Van Soest ’04.

Case studies on best practices were provided through Skype by Cheryl Seminara ’87, education policy adviser at the Federal Emergency Management Agency; Ed Tobias ’70, manager of business continuity and disaster planning at the Associated Press; and Peter King ’78, correspondent for CBS Radio Network.

A panel of alumni also served as mentors to student teams. The panel was made up of Michael Kaplan ’85, group account director for G2; Ed Alpern ’78, producer at Alpern Communications; Carole Irgang ’86, president of Redshoes Marketing; Steve Goldstein ’79, executive vice president of Saga Communications; and Stu Katz ’83, president and founder of Elm City Communications.

The news reporting climate in China is not the same as it is in the United States, but Renmin is one of the top universities in China, and its students are eager to be part of the global network of journalists with strong commitment to the ideals of their profession. You can imagine my pride as Professor Zhong described to us the profound impact this IC-designed exercise had had on her students.

I heard the same story again in Sichuan Province a few days later at China West Normal University, which also participated in the simulation. Professor Cheng Lirong, dean of the School of Journalism and Communications, proudly presented the final video report prepared by her student team. For journalism students at Renmin and China West Normal, IC’s Park School of Communications is a place where hard questions are being asked, and students are trusted to work their way through to good answers.

The collaborative center in China will give future IC students a foundation that will enable them to be leaders in this burgeoning U.S.-China relationship. As I learned in April, though, Ithaca College already has a strong and respected presence in that country. Billy Stanton’s story shows the power of internship to give direction to one’s professional life. The Park School’s online simulation shows the power of digital technology to bring students together from around the world to work on a shared project. Both examples illustrate the bridges that already exist between Ithaca College and a country with which we are destined to have an increasingly close and complex relationship in the century ahead.