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Success Story: Pioneering China partnership wraps, college looks ahead

February 3, 2021

Chinese students enrolled in NMC programSome 140 Chinese students have earned NMC degrees, a new land surveying degree program at NMC is underway, and a replicable program template has been established as a pioneering partnership between NMC and a Chinese technical school wraps up this month.

Believed to be the first time a community college has delivered a technical, applied program internationally, NMC’s partnership with the Yellow River Conservancy Technical Institute in Kaifeng, China can now serve as a template for course delivery to other audiences seeking NMC’s unique expertise and credentials. This week, in fact, NMC is presenting a concept called Ocean Technology Field Academy to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine at the U.S. launch meeting for the United Nations’ Ocean Decade initiative.

Hans Van Sumeren“We would package modules for delivery globally,” said Hans Van Sumeren (left), director of NMC’s Great Lakes Water studies Institute, based on already-successful initiatives like Yellow River and summer Marine Technology camps, held at NMC’s Great Lakes campus for five years.

Work on the Yellow River partnership began in 2012, with the first course delivery in 2017. NMC instructors traveled to China to teach two Water Studies courses and two basic construction courses to about 40 students, in English using NMC curriculum with Chinese interpretation. In 2018 they traveled again to teach a second cohort. In 2019 NMC began offering a land surveying degree informed by Yellow River, which has the largest surveying program in China. About a dozen students are currently enrolled, with room for more.

NMC instructors were scheduled to return to teach the last cohort in April 2020 when it was postponed by COVID-19. In November 2020, the partnership turned to virtual delivery for its last cohort. Van Sumeren said this enabled college instructors to use equipment like the 60,000-gallon water tank on the Aero Park campus.

“Things we had never ever done in China we were able to do virtually from Traverse City,” said Van Sumeren. He added that he believes virtual delivery improved the experience, which occurred in shorter daily chunks, rather than an intensive, all-day, two-week in-person delivery as with previous cohorts.

“They’re able to learn better, in terms of the translation component, doing it in shorter segments,” Van Sumeren said.

That’s not to say there weren’t challenges. To accommodate the 12-hour time difference and still provide feedback to Chinese students, NMC instructors used a multi-camera setup to livestream their carpentry and construction classes during the evenings from the Aero Park Laboratories building. Yellow River students working in the morning, China time, built the same shed (above).

Construction Technology coordinator Dan Goodchild credited adjunct instructors Brian Sweeney and Phil McCuien, who have taught all the construction cohorts, for making it work.

“We’re fortunate that we’ve had a couple instructors that were able to take the time away from any other work,” Goodchild said.

Student exchanges that were originally envisioned as a next phase of the NMC-Yellow River partnership are on hold due to travel restrictions necessitated by COVID, but could become reality as future study abroad experiences.

NMC began the partnership with Yellow River in 2012 as part of the strategic directions determined by the college Board of Trustees to prepare learners for success in a global society, establish international competencies in the area of freshwater and deliver learning through a networked workforce.


Read a 2019 story about the professional development Chinese instructors gained on a visit to NMC.

Read a 2017 story about NMC’s first visit to China.

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