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Chinese Engineering Students Observe Rose-Hulman Catapult

July 31, 2012

  HUST in Interview       
(From left to right) Yangyang Liu, Hao Chen, Chaoke Guo, Xiaocong Gong, Dr. Zheng Zhang (instructor), Jin Chen, Ting Ge, Shuyu Liang.  

Read a blog by Xiaocong Gong 

Upper class students from the HUST, Hubei University of Science and Technology, in Hubei Province China, returned for the third year to observe Rose-Hulman's Catapult, the summer program for promising high school students considering a career in engineering. The Catapult program, called "engineering camp" by students around the country, is built on a core of hands-on project work, and a handful of engineering challenges. But it includes a rigorous schedule, a compact course of study, close faculty mentoring, informal atmosphere, and a lot of hardcore fun, from late-night movies to travel trips to nearby cities.

"Catapult has the most intense schedule on earth!" said Xiaocong Gong from the HUST school. "Timetable is always full from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. the next day."

On one of these fun-filled evenings, the HUST students offered a program for the Rose-Hulman "Cata-Monkeys" called "Dumpling Night" - the featured foodstuff for the evening, none other than Chinese dumplings. The HUST students  spent a whole day preparing for the evening, including the production of over 300 hand-made dumplings. And during the evening, they told students about China, taught them Chinese paper cutting, calligraphy, language and writing. They also treated each Cata-Monkey to  a bookmark with his or her name in it, written out by hand in Chinese characters. Students from HUST reported that the evening was a great success as well as a lot of fun.

"We were deeply touched when [Catapult students] put this little gift in their name cards in front of their chest and brought it for the rest of Catapult days," said YangYang Liu, referring to the way students proudly presented their bookmarks.

   Chinese dumpling night  
  

When asked what he might bring back to China from his Rose-Hulman experience, Jin Chen said good-humoredly, "I will take back the cooking skill," which he learned on-the-fly in order to help make the dumplings. For many of the HUST students, "Dumpling Night" was the first time they had ever cooked.

The emphasis on the work-hard, play-hard model, injecting the element of "fun" into the learning environment, is something the HUST students said they hope to import to their university.

"I will bring back this period of having fun," Hao Chen reported.

They were intrigued by Catapult's "theme days," which encourage students to dress up according to a theme - that day was Superhero Day. The HUST students  marveled at the creative costumes the Catapult students put together, adding that there had also been "Nerd Day and Toga Day." They  said they regretted not having brought any costume-wear from China. 

According to the current HUST visitors, this "fun" approach was successful last year at their school when Rose-Hulman's Dr. Patricia Bracken and a small Rose-Hulman team visited Hubei, by invitation, to provide a short Catapult-like experience for HUST's incoming freshmen.

Dr. Zheng Zhang, the HUST instructor accompanying this summer's HUST student team,  mentioned that before he visited Rose-Hulman, he'd had an impression that Americans' freedom came at the expense of rules and order.  So he was surprised to note Catapult's mix of fun and freedom within a framework of strict rules and tight learning schedule.

"I hope that in the future, we can make our campus more like this," he reported.

"I want to bring this teaching opportunity to students in China," added Xiaocong Gong, sounding very much as if leadership was in his future.

In a conversation at Hatfield Hall's alumni center, HUST students reported being impressed with many things that have come to be Rose-Hulman hallmarks, the trust and honor system, the friendly atmosphere in which everyone says "hi." Yangyang Liu, who goes by the name of Freka, said she was impressed by the Christian belief system, noting that faith-based ideas are not as prevalent in China.  She said she'd like to bring home the trust and belief that come with having such a system.

In terms of what American students could learn, about China, Liu said she has been surprised to have people ask if they still wear braids in China.

"One day when we were cooking in the kitchen, one friend came and asked us if there is still arranged marriage, if Chinese men still have braid," Gong reported. "Aha, it is certainly untrue about that. China has changed a lot since 1949, the founding year of PRC." But Gong also mentioned an American student who had lived Shanghai who spoke fluid Chinese and still Skyped his Chinese friends.

Dumpling night Catapult  
Sharing Chinese food specialty: dumplings

Yangyang Liu said she would want Americans to know that though the culture is different -- particularly the food, which in China is less sweet and involves different preparation - that China is a modern and growing country. In lifestyle, she said, she and her colleagues could relate very much with the young Catapulters. She added that while sites like Twitter may be banned, China has its own counterparts, including a Twitter counterpart.

Being upper-level engineering students, the students from HUST were certain that they could guide their pre-college Catapult teams toward successful completion of the challenges. The team working on the rail-runner noted that the challenge has only been successfully overcome 2 times in 10 years. They promised that their team will complete the challenge successfully. That will be seen next Wednesday, when Catapult winds up with project testing.

"One day when we were cooking in the kitchen, one friend came and asked us if there is still arranged marriage, if Chinese men still have braid," Liu reported. "Aha, it is certainly untrue about that. China has changed a lot since 1949, the founding year of PRC." But Liu also mentioned an American student who had lived Shanghai who spoke fluid Chinese and still Skyped his Chinese friends.