A Chinese Partnership for ENG

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Tsinghua University engineers will earn master’s degrees at BU

Under a new dual degree program, graduates from Beijing’s Tsinghua University, one of China’s top universities, will be able to get a master’s degree in systems engineering at the College of Engineering. Kenneth Lutchen, dean of ENG, says the arrangement will benefit both schools, whose engineering faculties already collaborate on research.

Under the agreement signed by President Robert A. Brown and Tsinghua President Qiu Yong on May 6, students who have earned a bachelor of engineering degree at Tsinghua can earn a master of science in systems engineering here. The so-called “4+x program” requires Tsinghua graduates to do two semesters of course work at BU, followed by a practicum that could be completed at Tsinghua.

“The engineering 4+x program is a historical milestone in the long-standing partnership between Boston University and Tsinghua University,” says Qiu. “As the first dual degree program between our two universities, it has brought our cooperation to a whole new level and paved the way for our future joint endeavors in both education and research.”

The students are chosen by Tsinghua through a rigorous vetting process. Under the program, designed by the Tsinghua department of automation and BU’s Division of Systems Engineering, 5 to 10 students will come to BU per year initially, with more expected in the future.

“This is an opportunity for us to create a partnership with another high-quality institution, in which we are getting excellent students to come participate in our community and to have the added advantage of a dual branding of two world-class universities on their degree,” says Lutchen. “We are convinced they will advance the reputation of Boston University internationally.”

Most systems engineering programs in the United States are narrowly focused on manufacturing or industrial systems, he says, but BU is one of a handful of universities that have holistic systems engineering programs that provide the fundamental concepts that students can apply to things from biomedical systems to urban infrastructure to the internet of things (the network of physical objects, such as devices, vehicles, buildings, with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity enabling them to collect and exchange data).

“It’s conceivable that new relationships will develop between the two institutions,” he says. “Students are amazing at catalyzing interactions between faculty that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.”

Lutchen, along with systems engineering division head Christos Cassandras, an ENG professor of electrical and computer engineering and of systems engineering, and division associate head Hua Wang, an ENG associate professor of mechanical engineering, led negotiations on behalf of BU. Cassandras made the first connection to Tsinghua through a thesis advisor who held an honorary professorship there. He has been visiting Tsinghua regularly since a months-long 2003 sabbatical trip, lecturing and mentoring, as well as recruiting the occasional student for BU’s PhD program in systems engineering.

“Tsinghua University is one of the premier universities in China with well-established educational and research activities in Systems Engineering. Several members of the Center for Information and Systems Engineering (CISE) and the Division of Systems Engineering, have existing collaborations with Tsinghua faculty members,” says Cassandras. “We expect that this agreement will build on those existing collaborative relationships by further advancing joint graduate degree programs, as well as strengthen research collaborations involving faculty and students.”

“This is a true faculty collaboration that has grown into an institutional bond,” says Willis Wang, BU vice president and associate provost for global programs.

There’s one other connection between the two schools. At the signing ceremony, Brown noted that both he and Qiu are chemical engineers. “It’s a great background for being a university president,” Brown said with a smile.

A previous collaboration with China was established in October 2014 when BU signed an agreement with Zhejiang University, setting a precedent for a successful international collaboration with a Chinese institution of higher education. That agreement was spearheaded by Professor Ioannis Paschalidis, Director of the Center for Information and Systems Engineering (CISE) and established a framework of cooperation between the College of Engineering at BU through CISE and the Faculty of Information Technology at Zhejiang through its State Key Laboratory of Industrial Control Technology.

A version of this story appeared in BU Today. Professor Ioannis Paschalidis (ECE, SE) also contributed information for this report.