The Wisconsin Idea echoed through the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Dejope Hall on Oct. 12, when about 70 students from three Chinese universities gathered for the culmination of the UW Advance program. UW–Madison’s notion that education should touch people’s lives outside the classroom, in all corners of the world, resonated as the group recounted their experiences in a three-week program that includes learning activities with faculty members, English classes, and field trips that provide a taste of American culture. Find a gallery of photos from the event at the end of this story.
The latest group of Advance participants included undergraduates and PhD students from Nanjing Agricultural University, Ningbo University, and Zhejiang Normal University. In addition to bolstering their English skills and getting acquainted with UW–Madison, students visited local businesses and startup incubators to learn about entrepreneurship, cultivated friendships, and took part in all-American pastimes such as making s’mores. Some also explored the American agricultural and educational systems through lectures, discussions, and hands-on activities.
“You connected with international peers, experienced life at UW–Madison, and participated in American culture, and we hope this experience will help you excel in your academic and professional careers,” program director Christine Inthachith said during a ceremony celebrating the group’s achievements.
Bringing Wisconsin to the world
The ceremony also included a luncheon and the distribution of certificates documenting students’ participation in the program. Students had lively conversations, said farewell to program staff, and posed for dozens of selfies. They laughed and cheered during a slideshow featuring photos of trips to many regional attractions, from a UW–Madison football game to Devil’s Lake State Park.
Patrick Sims, UW–Madison’s deputy vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion and its vice provost and chief diversity officer, also addressed the group, remarking how much he enjoyed visiting Nanjing Agricultural University several years earlier.
“We live in a global, interconnected community. You are ahead of the game in exploring it so early in your careers,” he told the Advance students.
Ryan Peterson, one of the group’s English instructors, recalled creative ways his students implemented the Wisconsin Idea. One of these involved an innovation workshop. Students pitched ideas for new products that could help others, including a tracking chip that could be placed in the dentures of dementia patients to prevent them from getting lost and a device that could remove every last bit of toothpaste from a tube.
“I will sleep better tonight knowing there are more Badgers in the world spreading the Wisconsin Idea,” he remarked. “I hope you take away that we are all here to learn from each other.”
‘The best of times’
The Advance ceremony also included short speeches by several of the program’s students. One speaker, Yating “Annie” Zhang of Zhejiang Normal University, described a formative experience teaching a class at the Verona Area International School.
“I observed several differences between the American and Chinese educational systems, like how Americans emphasize self-awareness,” she said. “A good teacher in an American primary school should be close to the students, so I learned to kneel down and communicate with the students on their level. This is a way of demonstrating the American commitment to equality.”
Zhang also shared how a glow-in-the-dark dance class helped her open her mind and connect with others.
“Many of us didn’t know how to follow the dance steps, but the laughter and glow sticks and atmosphere helped us create memories we will value all our lives,” she said. “Thank you for letting the best of me meet the best of you in the best of times.”