About the Program
The Asian Studies Center proposes a new collaborative program in social science research on the impact of economic growth on desertification and water resource management practices in rural, northwestern China. Student/faculty teams will be comprised of American and Chinese researchers who will focus on the following question: How has the massive economic development mandated by the central government’s ambitious “Opening and Reform of Northwest China” (Xibei dakaifa) program affected desertification and water resource management in rural, northwest China? This inquiry-based program contains an educational component designed to mentor young researchers through the complete process of designing a research agenda, performing primary research in the social sciences in both urban areas and rural Chinese villages, and developing collaborative research and writing skills. It builds upon the findings and methods of a highly successful previous Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program conducted in China from 2002 to 2010.
Rural, northwest China provides an excellent venue to explore the impact of economic policies and corresponding development on water and soil resources. For example, northwest China is particularly deficient in water and hosts two of the world’s most fragile dry land ecosystems--the Yellow River Basin loess plateau and the Tibetan highlands. The Yellow River Basin loess plateau stretches over 640,000 km2, and includes portions of Shaanxi, Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, and Inner Mongolia provinces and is home to more than 90 million people, including 55 million mostly poor farmers. Its yearly erosion of 1.6 billion tons of soil per year ranks it among the most extreme erosive climates in the world. To date, these five northwestern provinces are among the poorest in China. Finally, China's Environmental Protection Agency reports that the Gobi Desert expanded by 52,400 square kilometers (20,240 square miles) from 1994 to 1999, an area half the size of Pennsylvania, and is responsible for the severe dust storms that blanket much of northeast Asia in the spring.
The primary educational/training objective is to mentor young researchers through the complete process of designing a research agenda, writing funding applications, performing primary research in the social sciences at an international field site, evaluating data, and constructing a final report. The program will also provide all program members with an opportunity to boost their professional development skills both here and abroad through interactions with the students, academics, and government officials of another culture. Additionally, the rural focus of this program will address the lack of astute rural researchers in the social sciences. Finally, activities are also designed to internationalize the research environment both at Pitt and our partner institutions in China.
Program Organizational Structure
This program will partner two American and three Chinese institutions. They are Northwest Socioeconomic Development Research Center (NSDRC) (Xibei shehui jingji fazhan yanjiu zhongxin) of Northwest University (Xibei daxue), Center for Historical Environment and Socio-Economic Development in Northwest China of Shaanxi Normal University (lishi huanjing yu jingji shehui fazhan yanjiu zhongxin), Peking University (Beijing daxue), The East-West Center of the University of Hawaii and the Asian Studies Center of the University of Pittsburgh.
Three senior academicians will be involved in all phases of the mentoring process: Dr. James Cook, Associate Director of the Asian Studies Center; Dr. Roberta Soltz, Bloomsburg University, Biology department and Science Talent Expansion; Dr. Pierre F. Landry, Department of Political Science, University of Pittsburgh. His focus is primarily on reform in China.
Because of the nature of the field experience in China, the program will be closely mentored. Three to four research teams will be established. Each team will consist of three American undergraduate students, a graduate research assistant, and a dedicated faculty mentor. In China, the research teams will be assisted by an equal number of Chinese academics and students who are sponsored by their own universities. The undergraduate participants will be recruited from both PITT and other institutions across the United States. Undergraduate student participants will receive funding for most China-related expenses (plane ticket and per diem, but no visa, laundry, and personal items), $200 book fund, and a significant research stipend. Graduate student mentors will receive similar support. NSF mandates participation be restricted to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
The program will take place at the University of Pittsburgh, Northwest University (Xi’an), and in rural villages in Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces, China (see map).
- Phase One will consist of recruitment and selection. Beginning in November, the national recruitment efforts for program participants will be initiated. The deadline for application will be set for February 15. All applications will be screened by at least two mentors, and 30 selected finalists will undergo telephone interviews. Selection of the final 15 scholars will be completed by April 9. The goal of the selection process will be to pair participants who have particular technical skills with those who have an interest in China and/or competence in Mandarin. Selected scholars will be required to review previous secondary literature and a list of “topics for contemplation” before arrival in Pittsburgh.
- Phase Two will be an intensive pre-departure program conducted on the PITT campus (6/12-6/19). Program mentors and other invited experts will conduct pointed, in-depth sessions on regional geography, environmental history, economic development, societal change, etc. An “Ethics in Science” program will also be included.
- Phase Three will involve an intensive four-week research experience in China divided between Xi’an and rural villages in Shanxi province. After flying to Xi’an, Shaanxi province, participants will be prepared to undertake regional research on the campus of Northwestern Universities. These local partners will be responsible for providing housing, transportation, and logistical support for local research. Students will work with their Chinese counterparts to craft a joint research agenda. Afterwards, students will spend two weeks in local villages along the Yellow River corridor between the two provinces (see map). Depending on the group to which the student is assigned, research activities will include surveys, interviews (villagers, government officials, factory managers), archival research, statistical data gathering, visits to local businesses and factories, water sampling, etc.
- Phase Four will take place at PITT over the last 10 days of this program (7/11-7/22), where participants will write up their findings. Participants will initially engage in data crunching and the outlining of the research paper. They will then co-write with their mentors a final 30-page draft. They will also be trained on how to develop a PowerPoint presentation of their research materials for professional venues and will present their findings to the group.
After phase four, PITT will maintain contact with participating members for a period of five years in order to build a collegial cadre of “China/Environmental Hands” and to ascertain the impact that this experience made upon their long-run academic plans.
February 15: The deadline for application
April 9: completed selection of the final 15 scholars
June 12: Program starts at Pitt
June 21: Arrive in Beijing
June 22: Arrive in Xi’an
July 11: Students depart from China
July 22: Program ends
- It will advance knowledge about the impact of sweeping reform and policy implementation in one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems and among some of the most marginalized populations in China.
- Its interdisciplinary approach will improve understanding across natural and social science disciplines.
- It provides an ideal setting for constructive, international exchange while educating the next generation of social and natural scientists.
- It will contribute significantly to the scholarship of integration while internationalizing our and partner institution(s).
- It builds on the considerable strengths inherent in interdisciplinary issues with international implications by developing collaborative international relationships in a subject area that is significant, exciting and appropriate for young researchers conducting primary research in international and occasionally challenging settings.