This article first appeared in Pittwire, May 13, 2019.
High schooler David Hu was not familiar with the University of Pittsburgh when his father talked to him about continuing his education in 2015.
However, he was intrigued that an institute familiar to him, Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, was partnering with Pitt to create the Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute, or SCUPI for short.
“I also always wanted to study overseas, so SCUPI became one of my top choices back then,” said Hu.
SCUPI is a joint academic entity formed by the two universities intended to provide a world-class engineering education that focuses on design, innovation and an international outlook.
As part of the partnership, 96 students enrolled in the institute in fall 2015 to study various fields in engineering in China and at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.
Nearly four years after talking with his father, Hu now has a place in history as one of the first graduates from the cohort.
On Saturday, April 27, those who finished their studies at Pitt reminisced and looked to the future as part of the inaugural graduation class. While 41 students graduated in April at Pitt, the other 42 students from the 83-student class are currently completing their studies at Sichuan.
This is because SCUPI students can attend both Pitt and Sichuan University through the institute via four degree paths: two years at Sichuan, then two years at Pitt; three years at Sichuan, one year at Pitt; four years at Sichuan; or three years at Sichuan, one year of undergraduate studies at Pitt and one year of graduate studies at Pitt.
“It goes without saying that SCUPI helped me develop professional knowledge in mechanical engineering,” said Hu, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from SCUPI, finishing his studies at Pitt. “The group meetings I have had in SCUPI prepared me well for the cooperative environment in the engineering industry. Critical thinking is also one of the best things I learned at SCUPI.”
SCUPI combines research with education, professionalism with academics and Eastern with Western approaches. Three undergraduate degree programs are offered: industrial engineering, materials science and engineering, and mechanical engineering. All classes, built on the Swanson School’s curriculum, are taught in English by faculty recruited worldwide.
Students who complete one of the undergraduate programs earn bachelor’s degrees from both institutions.
In China, students study on Sichuan University’s Jiang'an campus in Chengdu, where Sichuan had a building constructed exclusive to SCUPI.
Among the graduating seniors, nearly 90 percent of them were admitted to graduate schools in the United States, United Kingdom and China, which is a historical high for Sichuan University.
Among the 41 seniors who finished at Pitt, many are going to other top engineering schools in the U.S., including Stanford, Berkeley, Georgia Tech, Michigan, Illinois, Cornell and Purdue.
However, the largest number of the seniors, about 30, will stay or come to Pitt for graduate school.
“This meets our expectation that SCUPI would also benefit our graduate programs,” said Minking Chyu, who has served as dean of the institute since 2014 and was one of several Pitt leaders instrumental in developing the partnership.
One of those students staying at Pitt is Chengyuan Hong, who graduated from SCUPI with a Bachelor of Science in Materials Science and Engineering.
Along with learning more about manufacturing and physics, including using Pitt’s makerspace for woodworking and 3-D printing, Hong also enjoyed extracurricular activities, including captaining a basketball team.
Hong said students enrolling in SCUPI should be ready to adapt to new environments.
“Study abroad means living in a totally different environment; it is normal that you would feel homesick in the first several days, but you can find someone who has the same experience with you in studying abroad and ask them for the way to adapt to the new environment,” he said. “Because of SCUPI, I received a better and more advanced education, which led me to study further in my major and apply for a graduate degree program in the Swanson School.”
With studying abroad at Pitt comes new cultural experiences for students as well, including the chance to make new friends and lasting memories.
“When I first arrived at my apartment in Pittsburgh, my roommates and I went to IKEA to buy furniture. We rented a van and did all the assembling work ourselves. That’s the first time I drove in America. After we filled the empty apartment with all the furniture we ‘made,’ I laid in my bed and started picturing my life at Pitt,” Hu said. “The satisfaction and the expectation are something I will always remember.”
Chyu said when the idea for SCUPI became solidified in 2013, he “knew we had something special in the works.”
“We live in a society that is increasingly thriving on global partnerships on all fronts, and to be able to stand here six years later and see our first graduating class off brings us enormous pride,” he said. “My hope is these aspiring graduates prosper as they take their skills into the professional world or further advance in academia, and serve as role models for future graduating classes of this program and other study abroad endeavors.”
Echoing that sentiment was James Martin, the U.S. Steel Dean of the Swanson School.
“This partnership between Pitt and Sichuan University is important for aspects beyond engineering or education; it’s important for the future, and that future starts today. You are the first class to make this partnership real,” he said at the April graduation ceremony for SCUPI students. “Pittsburgh is well known for its 446 bridges, among the most of any city in the world. But today, you helped to build its 447th bridge, connecting the 7,500 miles between Pittsburgh and Chengdu.”