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University News

China Initiative to foster research, institutional ties

Watson Institute’s new program to focus on issues including climate change, social justice

Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Watson Institute for International Studies is developing a China Initiative over the coming year that aims to build on faculty research, provide opportunities for student fellowships and create long-term partnerships with Chinese institutions, administrators said.

After the University’s Year of China in the 2011-2012 academic year, the new China Initiative will channel the Year of China’s “energy and excitement” to introduce innovative programs that link the academic study of China to the solution of real-world problems, said Edward Steinfeld, the initiative’s director.

“It’s a continuation of our previous interest in China,” said Sonia Feigenbaum, associate provost for international affairs.

Though the initiative does not yet have a specific launch date, programs are already taking shape through University-sponsored scholarship and research focusing on issues in China, including climate change, development and sustainability, social justice and public health, Steinfeld said. “The aim of the China Initiative is to scale up those activities substantially,” he added.

In the short term, organizers are working on building a two-year postdoctoral program open to a wide range of disciplines and meant to attract individuals in the early stages of their careers, Steinfeld said. The postdoctoral program opens up the opportunity “to get the best and the brightest” of Chinese scholars who would like to visit, he said, though he is unsure when this part of the initiative will launch.

The University is also developing a “visitors program” that will bring a different audience — practitioners focused on China-related issues, including social entrepreneurs, government officials, journalists, businesspeople and medical professionals ­— to campus, Steinfeld said. These visitors will remain at the University from a few weeks to a few months, he said.

The initiative will also introduce a student fellows program that will ensure undergraduates have an opportunity to work alongside scholars at the University who are involved in research on China, Steinfeld said. The fellows and visitor programs are expected to begin this fall, he added.

Undergraduates will also have the chance to participate in student-initiated conferences and seminars, such as the first Brown-China forum in April, which will focus on contemporary China, Steinfeld said.

In the long run, initiative organizers hope to strengthen partnerships with China-based organizations and encourage more students to undertake internships in China, Steinfeld said. The initiative aims to have both an academic and physical footprint in China, with the potential of establishing University buildings in China for research projects, he added. “I hope we have so many programs going on in China that we’ll need some kind of a formal presence there.”

Administrators’ inspiration for the initiative came partly from the University’s Brown-India Initiative, which has funded new faculty positions and hosted events and conferences on issues related to India. “I think there are ways that these regional initiatives can be built such that they end up entering synergies with each other and cross-pollinating,” Steinfeld said.

The initiative goes hand in hand with ongoing efforts to refocus the activities of the Watson Institute, but will also involve faculty members in the humanities, the sciences and engineering, Feigenbaum said. “It’s going to be encompassing of the entire Brown community and beyond,” she said.

“I think this initiative is going to be around for a long time,” Steinfeld said.

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