The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Zhejiang University (ZJU) commemorated 20 years’ worth of accomplishments on April 18, when representatives from the two universities met via Zoom.
For an hour they celebrated their partnership, which has produced countless success stories and has flourished over the course of two decades.
And if being virtual proves anything, it’s that the ZJU partnership can withstand anything, including a pandemic.
More Than a Partnership
Dr. Reitumetse Obakeng Mabokela, the vice provost for international affairs and global strategies, said whenever the Illinois International team gets together with their colleagues from Zhejiang University, it always feels like a gathering of friends.
“We have known each other, have collaborated with each other for more than 20 years now,” she said during her opening remarks at the April 18 kick-off meeting. “I think if I were to look back on our collaboration, it goes even further than that.”
The partnership between the two entities dates to July 2002 when the initial Memorandum of Agreement was signed.
In 2004 the first Memorandum of Understanding was signed, and in April 2009 the MOU was renewed and the ZJU-Illinois International Center for BioEnergy was established along with the summer student exchange program.
Then, in July 2015, both universities signed an agreement for the creation of a joint institution, something that ZJU President Zhaohui Wu said opened a brand-new chapter for solid and in-depth cooperation between the two universities.
Wu said the last 20 years has seen great changes world-wide all of which was marked by prominent global issues and geopolitical complexity.
Then the pandemic hit, which Wu said dealt a huge blow to things like cross-border mobility.
Yet, despite all these difficulties, Wu said they were able to overcome these challenges together.
“As the old saying goes, ‘Many hands make light work,’” he said. “Collaboration is a must for scientific innovation and global welfare. It enables us to unleash infinite power when faced with new challenges of the times.”
That’s exactly what the two universities did.
Past and Present Success
Wu said that regardless of the challenges ahead, and the lingering pandemic, ZJU will continue to remain committed to cooperation and will continue to harness technology to continue joint work, teaching and research with UIUC.
UIUC Chancellor Robert Jones also applauded the cooperative achievement the two universities captured.
He said that although he was not a member of the university 20 years ago, he has been able to see the enormous and positive impact for the students and faculty that has grown out of the vision for collaboration and cooperation.
Chancellor Jones also shared similar COVID-19 sentiments and said that even though the pandemic has affected international mobility, it has not halted the pace of cooperation between the two universities.
He said in just 20 years they have established dozens of new research programs, educational exchanges, academic programs, built a lasting scholarly partnership and authored hundreds of papers that cross many disciplines and bridge the two universities despite being separated by an ocean.
He also said that the ZJU-UIUC partnership has truly defined what it means to be a global university in the 21st century.
An example of what the partnership has produced is the Zhejiang University-University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Institute.
Wu said the Institute has evolved into a flagship achievement of cooperation between the two universities and a benchmark for China-foreign cooperation in education.
ZJUI is the joint institute developed with the Grainger College of Engineering. Although it’s part of ZJU, it is its own separate institute but an example of the cooperation between the two universities.
Der-Horng Lee, the dean of ZJUI, said over the course of six years the Institute has fulfilled its vision to introduce students to the very best education and cultivation model.
Additionally, they have achieved steady and sustainable student enrollment, with increases expected not just in student enrollment but in full-time faculty members and staff.
Students and faculty have also received awards and other accolades, and one of the most recent achievements produced from the Institute is the formation of the Dynamic Research Enterprise for Multidisciplinary Engineering Sciences.
DREMES is a joint research enterprise that focuses on health, energy, environment and sustainable manufacturing and is committed to tackling major global challenges.
To put the institute’s success in numbers, 95 research projects have been conducted, they have 648 publications, they have 22 research labs, 37 patents and 32 teaching labs.
“In terms of measurable output, we have done not just reasonably well, but extraordinarily well,” Lee said. “ZJUI is surely on an up-rising trend by all means.”
The Next 20 Years
Chancellor Jones said that even though he is proud that they are celebrating all the achievements in the first 20 years, he is just as excited to see what we they will be able to accomplish together in the next 20 years.
He wasn’t alone in the sentiment.
ZJU Vice President Lianzhen He and Susan Martinis, the vice chancellor for research and innovation at UIUC, outlined a blueprint for the cooperation between the two universities in the next 20 years.
They did this in the hope that the partnership between the two universities will continue to flourish, thus making contributions to building a better world.
In other words, they hope that both universities and the institute will continue to strive toward innovations and research that help produce growth in the world and contribute to positive change.
Of course, they said they hope to do this together through cooperation.
During his speech, Chancellor Jones echoed how important this partnership was not just for each respective community but globally.
And he said that 20 years ago, this partnership started with a vision.
“There are various sayings and parables about grand things coming from small beginnings,” he said. “I would suggest that the original document that formalized and cemented this relationship exemplifies that statement. It is less than two pages in length, and from that vision it is spelled out in fewer than 500 words that our institutions have built what I believe is the most important, the most admired and the most innovative international partnership in all of global higher education today.”