A unique collaborative summer practicum course offered students at both the Middlebury Institute and Middlebury College what one participant described as “unprecedented access to industry leaders, policy-makers and trade associations” in China during a recent month-long in-country immersive learning experience.
Annathea Cook MAIPS ’16, president of the Institute’s International Trade Club, also called her practicum experience “the culmination of my education. I studied U.S.-China trade policy at MIIS, but this is the program that enabled me to call myself a confident professional in my field.”
The “Engaging China through Field Research” course was co-developed and co-taught by Professor Wei Liang of the Institute with Professors Jessica Teets and Orion Lewis of Middlebury College. Students in Monterey enrolled in a spring course taught by Liang, while students in Middlebury enrolled in a parallel course taught by Teets and Lewis, with both classes participating in policy debates and simulations and developing research projects in preparation for the group’s field research trip to China. After arriving on June 7, students on a trade-focused project stayed through June 28, while students on a development-focused project remained through July 12. A total of 22 students participated, 12 from Monterey and 10 from Middlebury.
Course participants in Monterey and Middlebury spent four hours every week during spring semester in research methodology training supervised by the three professors with support from Professors Phil Murphy and Fernando DePaolis of the Mixed-Methods Evaluation, Training and Analysis (META) Lab. During the course of the training, students developed the research focus and instruments they would later use to conduct their fieldwork.
Giulia Zoppolat MAIPD ’17 said that “This course opened my eyes to the trials and tribulations of research and also the joy and the sheer excitement of breakthroughs in the field. It took me out of the comfort zone of the classroom, made me hit some walls, taught me how to get past them and keep going, and truly brought to life lessons and skills that I had learned in school.”
During the trip’s first week in Beijing, students attended lectures on cutting-edge research done by top Chinese researchers, interacted with Chinese policy-makers, and further updated their research instruments with help from Professor Beryl Levinger. At the end of the first week, participants were split into teams to travel to two locations for fieldwork, Shenzhen and Hangzhou. Students and professors collaborated on each project to arrange interviews, conduct small surveys and go on site visits.
The experience was an exceptional one even for Chinese native Cen Wang MAITED ’16: “During the practicum, we visited multinational companies, Chinese private companies, industrial associations, law firms, government branches and consulting firms in Beijing and Shenzhen. Many of them are the leaders in their industry… [E]ven though I have lived in China for most of my life, I have never had the chance to visit so many companies and talk to practitioners.”
Liang called the practicum “the most successful and rewarding course I’ve ever taught,” noting that students and faculty collaborated to develop two complementary research projects, one on educational and environmental policy innovation at the local government level (development focus) and the other on the effectiveness of business lobbying of companies in China (trade focus).
Teets agreed, declaring it “the most effective course that we’ve ever taught… the combination of professor-student collaboration and global experiential learning results in an incredible learning experience.” Professors Teets, Lewis and Liang received support for their collaborative course from Middlebury’s Fund for Innovation.
Four of the Institute participants were translation and interpretation students who provided support to all participants during their field research in China: Joshua Raymond Goldberger MACI ’17, Xiaoyue (Lance) Guo MATLM ’17, Shine Sun MACI ’17, and Dolly Zhao MATI ’17. These students applied and were selected by Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation and Language Education Dean Renee Jourdenais and Chinese Translation and Interpretation Professor Laura Burian, and supervised by Burian, including providing remote guidance during the group’s time in China.
Participating students had the option to stay in China for an additional two weeks if they wanted to conduct more field research on their own. Returning Institute students have the option of incorporating their original research into an independent study project or master’s thesis, and also to work with faculty members to develop their findings into research journal articles. Finally, students will have the opportunity to present their findings at an international conference co-sponsored by the Association of Chinese Political Studies and the Middlebury Institute on October 10-11 in Monterey.
Liang described the course, which involved wide-scale collaboration among students and faculty from different schools and different programs located on different campuses, as “a rare opportunity for our students to develop, work and deliver a real policy-relevant research project from scratch. The knowledge they have gained throughout this process will endure, and more importantly, the skills they have acquired and practiced in the field will be applicable to their future endeavors anywhere in the world.”
[With reporting by Daniele Elizaire MPA ’17]