One major, two countries, a different style of learning
By Ashley R. Fazio
In the United States, if you declare a major but later realize it’s not a good fit, you change it — two, three, four times — until you find what interests you. For Peihan Ren, a student from Heibei University of Technology (HUT) in Tianjin, China, it wasn’t that simple. “In China, it is very hard to change your major, only the top five percent of students can.” She was enrolled in HUT’s top electrical engineering program, but the classes didn’t pique her interest.
So she made a decision to travel 7000 miles to the opposite side of the globe to enroll in the Watson School 2+2 program. “If I came to America, I could try a different major.” But a change wasn’t necessary after all.
“It’s a different type of learning environment here,” Ren explains. “In China, you just have to know how to answer the problem and do the exam. Here you have to understand the why and how to come up with a solution.”
She experienced her first group project in junior design, assembling a computer-controlled robot that could track a line and turn right or left. Then Ren designed an analog circuit in Assistant Professor Christopher Twigg’s senior-level course. She was hooked.
“At Binghamton, I learned something real that it is not just theory. It made me interested in my major again,” she explains.
Ren was one of 15 in the second cohort of students who graduated from the 2+2 program this last May. Even with the stresses of a different climate, a new culture and unfamiliar learning environment, Ren excelled along with the other 24 HUT students who graduated in the last two years. Both cohorts averaged a cumulative GPA near 3.5. A third group of six began their studies in fall 2012, and 13 more are expected in fall 2013.
“They are some of the strongest students in our program,” says Mark Fowler, professor and graduate programs director of electrical and computer engineering. “They are all highly motivated and most, if not all, strive to continue on to graduate school — with many going on to the best graduate programs in the country.”
Ren will continue at Binghamton for one more year to complete her master’s degree, also in electrical engineering. This summer she returned home for a much-welcomed visit with her family and an internship at State Grid Corporation of China. “I hope I can work there after I graduate,” she says. “It is hard to get into this company, and it is famous for its high salary and good working environment.”