Want to Be an Engineer? Better Learn Chinese

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Students in a lecture hall at Johns Hopkins' Nanjing Center.

Want to be a doctor/engineer/physicist/chemist? Don’t fill up your class schedule with too many biochemistry and intro to fluid dynamics classes; you might just need to save some of your study time for learning Chinese. At a time when “many of the great STEM [science, technology, engineering and medical] breakthroughs are now occurring in China,” as Kellee Tsai, a vice dean at Johns Hopkins puts it, figuring out how to communicate across cultures becomes increasingly essential.

Which is precisely why Johns Hopkins launched Johns Hopkins-China STEM, an eight week summer program in Nanjing to help the university’s students, faculty, and researchers gain proficiency in Mandarin Chinese. Designed with English-speaking scholars who already have some experience with Mandarin and academic experience in engineering or the health sciences, the program immerses participants in Chinese culture. Along the way, they’ll learn how to discuss transportation infrastructure and architectural design (in the engineering track) or nutrition, health policy, and clinical practice (for the health sciences track).

The program takes place at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, which was the first Chinese academic center to be jointly operated by its American and Chinese partners when it opened in 1986.

The course itself is not for newbs — it’s roughly equivalent to a fourth-year college-level course (and, yes, students can get academic credit for their participation). But putting in that hard work will probably pay off in the end, says Tobie Meyer-Fong, one of the program’s planners:  “College and professional school graduates with first-rate language training in specialized areas will enter today’s transnational job market with a competitive advantage.”

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