MTSU president touts successes, explores joint research options during China tour

Middle Tennessee State University helped its primary partner in China, Hangzhou Normal University, celebrate its 110th birthday, participating in a series of events that wrapped up Monday.

HNU, which helps MTSU operate the Confucius Institute on the Murfreesboro campus, marked the anniversary of its 1908 founding with an international assembly of scholars, which featured MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee as a keynote speaker.

Leaders from both universities also met Monday to discuss potential new joint research, new scholarships for Chinese students to attend MTSU and ways to showcase the Center for Chinese Music and Culture in Murfreesboro.

At the scholars assembly Sunday, McPhee represented more than 50 universities worldwide with ties to HNU, which, like MTSU, began as a teacher-training school and grew into a major comprehensive institution serving China’s Zhejiang province.

“Although our respective universities are separated by the great Pacific Ocean, as Middle Tennessee State University’s president, I can personally attest to the many benefits that MTSU has enjoyed through our partnership,” McPhee said.

McPhee credited HNU in helping MTSU create the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research; a new initiative to help Tennessee farmers grow ginseng; and the Chinese music center that has become a cultural hub for local and area K-12 schools.

“The partnership that MTSU shares with HNU in establishing a Confucius Institute on our campus illustrates the positive outcomes of educational exchange,” he said.

“In addition to our students studying at one another’s universities, the partnership has broadened the cultural understanding of each university community and has resulted in numerous advances in language, science, agriculture and research.”

The Confucius Institute at MTSU opened in 2010 and has since taught hundreds of Tennessee K-12 students about Chinese language and culture. Similar institutes operate worldwide through partnerships between Chinese universities and host institutions.

McPhee also underscored “the importance of maintaining and increasing the connections made through educational programs” like the Confucius Institute, saying they “play a vital role in creating people-to-people contacts – apart from politics – to increase appreciation of the arts, culture and education.”

After his address, McPhee also met HNU alumnus and Chinese business magnate Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group. Ma, who is chairman of the Alibaba Business School at HNU, also addressed the scholars assembly.

McPhee and HNU leaders later convened the annual meeting of the MTSU-HNU Confucius board. HNU leaders outlined their plans to fund more students to attend MTSU, while McPhee said he would press for more research collaboration with HNU faculty.

MTSU has made international engagement one of its strategic priorities. As such, McPhee worked to strengthen MTSU’s international undergraduate and graduate enrollment, particularly in China.

McPhee’s series of four lectures in China in May began with a stop in Beijing and, on Tuesday, will move from Hangzhou to Changsha, home of Hunan Normal University.

Next, he will travel to Nanning and tour several traditional Chinese medicine facilities with MTSU professors involved in research between the Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants and the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research.

McPhee will also lecture at Guangxi University in Nanning, one of the top providers of international students to the Murfreesboro campus.

The MTSU delegation includes state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and businessman and donor Paul Martin, the first graduate of MTSU’s Honors College and a supporter of the university’s China outreach and study into ginseng.

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