Landscape architecture and planning students take part in new exchange with China

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John Carberry

Lingering outside the Changmen Gate to admire reflecting pools, rockeries and the Little Penglai fairyland was all in a day's coursework for a group of Cornell students this summer, as they took part in a new design exchange program between the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU).

Led by Kathryn Gleason, associate professor of landscape architecture, and George Frantz, a lecturer in city and regional planning, nine Cornell landscape architecture and urban planning graduate students collaborated with a group of SJTU students during a visit to Shanghai in August.

In the western seaside city, the Cornell students formed four teams with their Chinese peers to transform an educational facility on a satellite campus of SJTU into a much-needed conference center.

The teams toured the city to gain inspiration for their assignment and spent a day at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, a model site for restorative and ecological design, Gleason said.

"Shanghai is a vibrant international city, growing at an unimaginable rate," she added, noting that planners and landscape architects from around the world are currently engaged in city development initiatives.

"We visited West Lake in Hangzhou, the Lingering Garden and the Humble Administrator's Garden in Suzhou and the Yu Garden in Shanghai to get ideas on traditional Chinese landscape architecture," said Alan Huang, MRP '11.

At the week's end, the teams presented their projects.

"I was really nervous about the language barrier before going, but the Chinese students quickly dispelled my anxiety," said Ben Helmes MLA/MRP '12.

"It was incredibly interesting how quickly the two separate student groups merged into one group," said Tim Lynch, MLA '12. "Once we became friends, the exchange of design ideas and practices happened quite naturally."

The exchange program is the result of efforts since the early 1990s to build relationships between CALS and its leading counterparts in China by Professor Norman Scott. The student exchange is an extension of an annual faculty workshop exchange started in 2004. Landscape architecture is the first department to benefit from the new venture.

"The development of SJTU's School of Agriculture and Biology in areas of biotechnology, plant sciences, animal sciences, food and natural products, and bioenergy is directly aligned with like interests and strengths of CALS," said Scott, who is a professor of biological and environmental engineering.

A committee of faculty representatives from both campuses is already working on the next step -- to offer short courses and workshops, collaborative research and extension projects in such fields as nanobiotechnology, plant science and bioenergy with hopes of developing an SJTU-CU Joint Center for Modern Agriculture and Biological Sciences.

"We hope this will create momentum for future activities in all disciplines," Gleason said. "It is our hope that our students can go to China for internship experience on the many exciting projects in Shanghai, and that faculty of both institutions can spend time enriching their knowledge and teaching through time spent in each other's country in a variety of venues."

Molly Cronin '11 is an intern at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

CALS' involvement in international agriculture and development began with a successful rice improvement program in China more than 100 years ago, and the college's connection to China remains strong. Hing Kwai Fung, the modernizer of Chinese agriculture, was a member of Cornell's Class of 1911, and the university's first significant international project, the Cornell-Nanjing Crop Improvement Program, began in the 1920s.

As part of that project, three Cornell plant breeders led a team that developed new strains of rice, wheat, cotton and other crops, increasing wheat yields, for example, by up to 50 percent. It became a model for technical cooperation and even spawned the popular literary masterpiece "The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck. Buck, M.A. '25, accompanied her husband, agricultural economist John Buck, to Nanjing, and out of her experience came the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

In the decades before World War II, Cornell professors trained a generation of Chinese plant scientists, including Shen Chung-han, considered the father of plant breeding in China.

Former molecular biology professor Ray Wu fostered many of CALS' modern links with China, including the foundation of the China-United States Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Examination and Application program, which brought more than 400 of the top Chinese students to the United States for graduate training, and produced more than 100 faculty members in major universities or key members in industry from 1982 to 1989. He was also instrumental in establishing the Institute of Molecular Biology, the Institute of Bioagricultural Sciences of Academia Sinica in Taiwan and the National Institute of Biological Sciences in Beijing.

In 1999, support from Martin Tang '70 and the Tang Family Foundation led to the creation of the Tang Cornell-China Scholars Program, which has allowed 11 Chinese researchers to further their work at Cornell.

More recently, CALS Associate Deans Michael Hoffmann and Helene Dillard took part in a two-week trip to the Beijing, Sichuan, Fujian and Shanghai provinces as part of an integrated pest management cooperation exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and former Dean Susan Henry visited the country as part of a monthlong tour of Asia.

Professors in the Department of Horticulture have also been traveling back and forth to attend workshops on such topics as apple nutrition and flower longevity, and several Chinese scholars visited campus earlier this year to learn about Cornell research into biofuels and sustainable vegetable production.

-- Stacey Shackford, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences writer


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