Students complete first Utah-China dual degree program at Westminster College

Published: Wednesday, June 6 2012 6:11 p.m. MDT

Yajing "Tulip" Fan is among the first nine exchange students to graduate from the dual-degree program at Westminster College. In 2007, Westminster signed a student exchange agreement with Nankai University in Tianjin, China allowing undergraduate students the opportunity to study economics at either campus. Participants in the "2+2" program spend two years at Nankai and two years at Westminster, receiving dual degrees upon completion Wednesday, June 6, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When Yajing "Tulip" Fan came to the U.S. two years ago, she hoped to broaden her educational horizons and improve her career prospects and selected a new program that would hopefully offer both.

Today, she said she has fulfilled each of those aspirations.

Fan is among the first group of nine students to have completed a dual degree program — known as "2+2" — receiving undergraduate degrees in economics from Westminster College and Nankai University in China.

Beginning next month, Fan will start a new job as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs. She credits her experience in the 2+2 program for helping her land an internship at the New York-based investment bank, which led to the full-time position.

“Because of 2+2, Goldman Sachs knew the value of my fluency in two languages,” she said. “They also wanted someone from a local college who also had international experience.”

In 2007, Westminster signed a student exchange agreement with Nankai University in Tianjin, China, offering undergraduate students the opportunity to study economics at either campus. Participants in the 2+2 program spend two years at Nankai and two years at Westminster, receiving dual degrees upon completion.

In fall 2010, Westminster officially launched the program. The Asian students began first in their native China and then transferred to study in Utah.

“The purpose of the 2+2 program is to provide more international and global learning experience to the students of both institutions,” said Chris Tong, director at the Center for China-American Business Studies at Westminster. “With more outstanding Chinese students studying at Westminster, it also strengthens the diversity aspect of our learning.”

Each of the 2+2 participants is moving on to graduate studies at various institutions or, in Tulip's case, has secured employment.

Another 2+2 graduate, Ai Fan, will be pursuing a master’s degree in finance at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She said the dual-degree program gave her an advantage in the exceptionally competitive field.

“The program undoubtedly prepared me for my upcoming graduate life in the United States," Fan said. "I’m more familiar with the academic culture and language here. Also, the internship opportunities I’ve had with U.S. companies have broadened my career prospects.”

While the program has been successful in matriculating Chinese students, no American students have yet completed it. Tong cited the lack of language skills among U.S. students as a major barrier when they travel to China, since students are required to take classes in the prevailing language of the school where they are studying. He said the schools hope to overcome that challenge as the program progresses.

"We will be recruiting students who already have some advanced placement Chinese (language) classes in high school," he said.

Many Chinese students begin studying English in kindergarten, Tong explained, giving prospective Chinese exchange students an advantage when they come to the U.S. and adjust to life in their new surroundings. If more American students study Chinese early on and take an additional year at Westminster, then it would increase their chances of success in programs like 2+2.

For now, Tong said he is pleased with the achievement of the first class of 2+2 students.

“They are getting the best possible education from both the East and the West,” said Tong. “I have no doubt that these graduates … will be very successful in their future careers.”

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com

Twitter: JasenLee1

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