Professor Gary Xu (second from right) with students
In late May and early June 2007, a group of seven faculty members and eight students traveled to China on a trip sponsored by the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership. This group of faculty included Academy Executive Director Tony Mendes, Gary Xu (East Asian Languages and Cultures), Michael Twidale (GSLIS), Gale Summerfield (Women and Gender in Global Perspectives), Liora Bresler (Curriculum and Instruction), Ann Abbott (Spanish, Italian and Portuguese), and Steve Anderson (Social Work). The students in attendance represented the campus’ Chinese Entrepreneur and Professional Club (CEPC) and the East Asian Languages and Culture department.
According to Tony Mendes, the purpose of the trip was to initiate a conversation with a number of audiences in China that have a connection with the University of Illinois and interests in entrepreneurship. “We went to China to conduct meetings with Illinois alumni there who have entrepreneurial interests,” Mendes explained, “as well as to explore educational opportunities with universities in Shanghai and to build relations with a major company in Beijing, the XinAo Group.”
In Nanjing, the Academy hosted the inaugural Sino-American Symposium on Social Entrepreneurship. The all-day symposium offered a roundtable discussion of topics related to social entrepreneurship, including presentations by Illinois faculty about the courses they teach in social entrepreneurship. Nanjing University professors provided insights about the cultural and social issues related to the growing Chinese economy.
College of Education professor Liora Bresler commented on the eye-opening quality of the Symposium. “It provided a unique and compelling opportunity to hear about various aspects of entrepreneurship in China,” Bresler later observed. “Being able to discuss issues of social entrepreneurship with sociologists, anthropologists and philosophers from Nanjing University highlighted the multi-layered, complex realities in this society.”
After Nanjing, the group traveled 700 miles to Beijing, where they met with high-ranking officials from the XinAo Group, a Chinese corporation with divisions in gas energy, robotics and open MRI equipment. After a round of introductory presentations, the Illinois group was given an extensive tour of the XinAo manufacturing facilities.
Other faculty on the China excursion – even those outside the disciplines of Business or Asian Studies – commented on the value of the experience. “Even though I teach Business Spanish, this trip will enhance my teaching in many ways,” stated Ann Abbott, “including comparative culture examples, communications, and corporate responsibility.”
Steve Anderson from Social Work was struck by the hosts’ interest in U.S. entrepreneurship education. “The level of interest in what we are doing, and in finding ways to collaborate with us, was very high at all three sites we visited,” he said. “I found this impressive, as such enthusiasm is not always the case at U.S. sites.”
Above and beyond the educational experience for all those on the trip, the Academy’s initial foray into China has also opened up opportunities for future collaborations. “We are already planning a second summit meeting on social entrepreneurship with Nanjing University for next year,” Mendes said. “And we have made arrangements with Jiaotong University to send a group of Illinois students to compete in a business plan competition there, as well as to host a group of their students here.”
Mendes was also quick to give credit to those responsible for the trip. “This trip would not have been possible without the support of the Center for International Business Education and Research and exhaustive work by Professor Gary Xu,” he said. “And we are extremely grateful to the Chinese host organizations and universities. We are very much looking forward to our future plans to work with them again!”