Chinese students explore engineering—and enjoy Madison—through Visiting International Students Program

Chinese students touring United Ethanol in Milton; wearing hardhats listening to a speaker standing outside near industrial buildings

On a picture-perfect summer day, 37 visiting undergraduate students from Southern China University of Technology excitedly shuffled into a large, bright room at UW–Madison. Some wore NASA t-shirts and Adidas sweatpants, others chose formal suits and dresses. Nearly all sported wide smiles. Big band music ushered them to tables in a cheery space beaming with natural light for a dinner reception.

Shuhan Chen, a junior on her first trip to the U.S., enjoyed the abundant sunlight.

“One of the first things I noticed when coming to Madison was that the buildings are low enough to see the blue sky during the day and shining stars at night,” Chen said. “Every day here, my mood was as bright as the sunshine.”

Shuhan Chen stands at a UW-Madison podium to speak to the group
Shuhan Chen and 36 fellow students enjoyed lectures, educational field trips, and cultural events over 18 days.

Chen and her fellow students were celebrating their final evening of an 18-day biomass chemical engineering workshop through the Visiting International Student Program (VISP).

International students come to UW–Madison for its high ranking academics, influential research and faculty, beautiful lakeside setting, global network of alumni and welcoming atmosphere. VISP welcomes students interested in short-term credit and noncredit study at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Staff provide personalized advising as well as cultural and social events to help students enjoy campus and the surrounding community. VISP noncredit offers 2-5 week thematic programs throughout the year to international students.

The students from Southern China University of Technology experienced a customized program for their cohort, full of lectures, cultural events and, of course, Babcock ice cream.

Learning from top researchers

Xuejun Pan, UW–Madison professor of bioenergy and bioproducts in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, helped host the group. At the closing reception, he said, “I’m delighted to say congratulations to everyone for a successful trip. From my time with you and all that I heard, it seems that everyone has enjoyed this unique experience.”

Students learned from Pan about his research on developing innovative technologies to convert biomass (trees, grasses and agricultural and forest residues) to fuels, chemicals, fibers and other materials. Students also heard presentations and lectures about engineering and chemistry from Troy Runge, chair of biological systems engineering, and the Huber, Ralph, and Stahl research groups.

Sophomore Jianning Feng appreciated the research focus on sustainability, saying, “We should all do something for the future because fossil fuels are running out.”

group of Chinese students posing for a picture, making the UW-Madison "W" signs
VISP welcomed these students to UW–Madison from Southern China University of Technology.

The group took field trips to United Ethanol in Milton, the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison and the Paper Discovery Center in Appleton. They also learned about using UW–Madison’s research collections, writing research papers and applying to graduate school.

Martin Rouse, assistant dean and director of Adult Career and Special Student Services attended the reception and told the group he enjoyed hearing students’ stories. “The world has huge problems that we need to work on together, especially in the field of climate. So I’m pleased to see this cultural exchange and how it can help transform us all.”

Making connections, experiencing culture

It was obvious from the hugs, selfie sessions and bursts of joyful laughter in the room that students bonded with each other during their trip. They also forged relationships with their professors and UW–Madison faculty.

Guanglei Zhao, associate professor at Southern China University of Technology, said, “I would like to give a big thanks to the professors and staff who supported us here. And thank you to my dear students. We learned together, ate together and had a lot of fun together.”

Associate professor Hongyan Mou added, “I want to thank our Wisconsin friends, and I hope that you can come to visit us in China.”

Chinese students enjoying a boat ride
In addition to experiencing academics, students took boat rides, visited the Chazen Museum of Art, and enjoyed ice cream on the Union Terrace.

In addition to experiencing academics, students took boat rides, visited the Chazen Museum of Art, enjoyed ice cream on the Union Terrace and went to the famous Dane County Farmers’ Market, among other adventures. They even visited Wollersheim Winery in Prairie Du Sac.

Students stayed in historic Adams Hall overlooking Lake Mendota.

“We had to step out of our comfort zone,” said Chen. “But we learned and we grew. Life here was full of laughter and delight. In Madison I watched the first baseball game of my life and listened to a concert on the Capitol Square.”

One of Feng’s favorite things was trying different kinds of food from all over the world. “I think I am five kilograms heavier than when I arrived,” he said, laughing. “When I am home, I will share my wonderful experience with my family and friends. I will tell them how beautiful Madison is and how cool UW is. Thank you for creating such a fun and educational experience for us.”

Planning for the future

“I am at an intersection of life-changing choices, whether to spend the next years furthering my studies or making a living,” said Chen. “I think I could find some answers at UW–Madison. A professor here told us to follow our passion, and I believe I will do that.”

Feng also expressed interest in coming back to study as a graduate student, adding, “It is easy to adapt here with friendly people and a beautiful campus.”

Rouse told the crowd, “I loved hearing students talk tonight about how your experience here could transform your plans. We sure hope to see you back in Madison soon. You are all Badgers now.”

Learn more about the VISP noncredit programs by contacting Christine Inthachith at christine.inthachith@wisc.edu or 608‑262‑1156.