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Inaugural students graduate from Coordinated Undergraduate Degree Program

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Inaugural students graduate from Coordinated Undergraduate Degree Program

Chao Fang was one of the first international students to come to the MU College of Engineering as part of a formalized program. He graduated in December and will continue his studies toward a master's degree at Mizzou.

With a bass voice that precedes him, Chao Fang laughs as he talks about “singing confidently.” At 6’2”, the MU computer science student originally studying at China’s Shanghai University said he doesn’t try to dominate the bass section in the Mizzou Choral Union, but he can’t help indulging his love of singing.

“I have a very loud voice,” he said.

In the choir, he’s one of about 175 vocalists. As an international student in the College of Engineering’s Coordinated Undergraduate Degree Program (CUDP), he’s one of about 120 students working toward engineering degrees at MU through a cooperative agreement with his home university. And he is one of seven students in the first graduating class of the formalized program.

It was an early exposure to American culture and the English language that stirred his interest in coming to Mizzou.

Six of the seven graduating international students from the MU College of Engineering Coordinated Undergraduate Academic Degree program. Pictured, from left to right, are computer science students Chao Fang, Ren Zhe Cao, Xiaoling Song, Chao Shi, Fei Wu and industrial engineering student Gang Sheng, with Director of International Student Programs and Student Enrichment Jill Ford.

“I wanted to learn Western culture,” he said. “When I was young, I saw a lot of American movies, and when I was in junior high school, every Thursday, we had ‘English corner,’ where we got to talk with American teachers. So through talking with them, I learned a lot about American culture.

“I had a dream: I wanted to go abroad and study there for a while, to experience, ‘What does foreign life look like?’ Through this program, I was able to come to America.”

Now, just more than two- and a-half years later, Fang and six other students will earn their MU bachelor’s degrees through CUDP.

When the MU Engineering international program started in the fall of 2009, the college had partnered only with Shanghai University. Director of International Student Programs and Student Enrichment Jill Ford said seven students, five who arrived that fall, one in the spring and one the following fall, acted as an unofficial test-run group who helped program organizers see how well the students functioned in their new environment.

“From the academic standpoint, we were sure the students would be successful,” Ford said.

However, some of the challenges that organizers encountered and are currently focused on are finding ways to get the students more involved with the university’s extracurricular activities and student groups and getting them to interact more with American students.

Fang said he has been influenced by his American roommates, who all work part-time jobs.

“To be financially independent, that’s one thing I learned when moving to the USA,” he said. “Some students in China work a part-time job during the holiday, but until I came here, I never thought about working and going to school at the same time. My roommates and other students influenced me.”

Fang said he has worked at the bookstore, as an engineering tutor and, since last summer, as an undergraduate research assistant.

Most from the inaugural group said the program offered an opportunity to fulfill their desire to study outside of their home country. Computer science graduate Ren Zhe Cao said that was the appeal that brought her to Missouri.

“I was always planning to go abroad,” she said.

CUDP allows for two years of study at a student’s home institution and completion of the degree requirements, usually another two years, at MU. Cao, along with fellow computer science students Fang, Renhao Cui, Xiaoling Song, Chao Shi and Fei Wu, and industrial engineering student Gang Sheng, earned bachelor’s degrees at the December 2011 convocation ceremony.

“The program allows the students to spend more time as an undergrad. When they arrive, they’re coming in at the right time in their lives,” Ford said.

MU Engineering’s international student initiative features two programs, including CUDP. The other program is the Collaborative Academic Program (CAP), in which students complete three years at a home institution and come to Mizzou to finish the requirements to earn a bachelor’s degree from their home institution, but still reap the benefits of studying abroad. Participating students may then apply to graduate school at MU and, if admitted, work toward a master’s degree.

In the two- and a-half years since its inception, more than 10 Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) agreements between Mizzou and partner universities have been signed.

In the future, students from India will arrive as part of the international program, as well as students from additional Chinese universities.

In addition to what they’ve learned academically at Mizzou, students said they’ve learned more about themselves from studying in the U.S.

“Would you believe I cut my hair by myself? I’ve cut my hair by myself since I’ve been here,” Fang said. “Sooner or later, I guess I will fix a car by myself. When you’re far from your parents, you start to pick up how to do everything, and you do it on your own. So, going abroad is a good opportunity to be independent from your parents. You learn how to be a real man.”

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