Pitt and Pittsburgh: A Global Powerhouse

Ariel ArmonyBy Ariel C. Armony

Even before I came to Pittsburgh to join the University of Pittsburgh, I knew about the successful transformation that our city had undergone.  Yet, when I travel around the world, I am still shocked to meet well-informed people who are unaware of Pittsburgh’s resurgence.  What more, then, can be done to make the world aware of the successful recovery and current status of our city?  We want the world to know of and learn from our success and we want to expand our global connections.  The kind of international exposure gained from last week’s visit by China’s Vice Premier Liu Yandong is one invaluable way to help achieve these goals. 

Vice Premier Liu and her high-ranking delegation of ministers, vice ministers, and other dignitaries paid a four-hour visit to the University of Pittsburgh on the afternoon of June 19, 2015.  This was, according to the Vice Premier, her longest visit to a foreign university ever.  Earlier that day, the delegation met with Mayor Peduto and learned about Pittsburgh’s successful transformation from a steel city to an education, medical, and tech hub.  On that occasion, Vice Premier Liu also launched the 2015 China-US Young Maker Competition, which fosters “makers” as the “true adventurers” in the creation of a sustainable future, as Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel Corp, put it during the event. 

The Vice Premier’s visit carries significant meaning for the future of both Pittsburgh and Pitt, especially since the University and the City share a proud history of collaboration.  What is good for one, has proven to be unquestionably good for the other.

Pitt’s long and distinguished history in international studies and the prestige of programs such as the Asian Studies Center, are part of a global powerhouse status that is expanding at an increasingly fast pace.  Rising global exposure will firmly establish the University of Pittsburgh among the very best universities in the world and its home city as a seat of innovation and knowledge that can impact the world.

The growing relationship between Pitt and China contributes to that burgeoning reputation.  First, Pitt has the only Confucius Institute in the world that has won the Confucius Institute of the Year excellence award three times.  Second, Pitt has the only US-China joint engineering institute located in western China and the only one with a focus on advanced and sustainable manufacturing.  Third, Pitt has the only School of Medicine to have partnered with Tsinghua University, a top ten university in China and Vice Premier Liu’s alma mater, to provide structured biomedical research training to the school’s medical students.

Many US universities view China primarily as a source of tuition-paying students.  Pitt’s approach is different.  We are interested in a comprehensive, sustainable, and mutually beneficial relationship.  This relationship is based on three interconnected goals: development, sustainability, and wellbeing.  

Pitt’s ties with China advance these goals in both countries.  Pitt’s Confucius Institute provides Mandarin-language instruction to K-12 students in school districts across Pennsylvania and Ohio.  These programs expand children’s cultural horizons, thus preparing them to compete in the global economy and helping them to become global citizens.  At a time in which opportunities to study foreign languages in many schools have decreased, the possibility to learn such an important language is a welcome addition to the education of our children.

Advanced manufacturing and sustainability are two vital issues in the world today. The joint institute established by Pitt and Sichuan University, one of the very best schools in China, will provide a superb platform for the United States and China to collaborate on these issues.  Incorporating the world-class experience of the Swanson School of Engineering, the new institute will contribute to the development of China’s western region, home to nearly a quarter of the country’s population.

Pitt’s cutting-edge program with Tsinghua University trains and equips Chinese healthcare professionals with the ability to apply modern biological science to solve clinical problems.  This program is particularly relevant for China as the country embarks on a major health care reform to address the wellbeing of its population.

Throughout her visit to Pitt, Vice Premier Liu Yandong witnessed first hand the quality of Pitt’s programs.  She learned about Pitt’s standing as a top ten US university in federal research funding, our leading position in such fields as international studies and engineering, our extensive community outreach programs, and the university’s superiority in the medical field as well as its distinctive partnership with UPMC. 

Standing curbside in front of Scaife Hall, at the end of her four-hour visit, Madam Liu, China’s most important female leader, put aside formality and protocol and spoke with great enthusiasm about Pitt’s future role as a leading institution in China.  I can tell you without any doubts that she left Pittsburgh fully understanding all that the University and the City have to offer the world.

 Ariel C. Armony is Senior Director of International Programs and Director of the University Center for International Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

Twitter: @arielarmony