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UT undergraduates complete summer research in China

picture of studentsThis summer, UT undergraduates and Haslam Scholars Kenna Rewcastle and Imani Chatman spent six weeks in Shenyang, China completing a soil science research project funded by the National Science Foundation (PI Dr. Jie Zhuang) at the Institute of Applied Ecology within the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Looking back on their trip, the students are quick to conclude that they brought back much more than just a better understanding of soil respiration and conservation tillage practices, which are important for both adaptation to climate change and agricultural sustainability.

Shortly after landing at the Shenyang Airport, Kenna and Imani attended a China-US joint workshop on the Biogeochemistry of Carbon and Nitrogen, at which CASNR professors Mark Radosevich and Sean Schaffer shared the conference’s program with American scientists from UT and ORNL, as well as many Chinese scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Shenyang Agricultural University. The workshop was organized by the China-US EcoPartnership for Environmental Sustainability and the China-US Joint Research Center for Ecosystems and Environmental Change, with sponsorship by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) and the United States National Science Foundation (NSF).

An underlying theme for the conference quickly became apparent: heightened collaboration between American and Chinese scientists will undoubtedly produce benefits in the form of an intimate scientific relationship between two cultures that, together, can tackle global problems and research questions that face us all. This same motif of collaboration and cultural immersion became interwoven in the students’ Chinese experience.

While spending late nights in the Institute’s laboratory monitoring soil respiration curves with several graduate student collaborators, the UT students were struck not by cultural differences, but by how overwhelmingly similar their lives, values, and aspirations were. Qin Qin and Qiufeng Xu, both graduate students at the Institute of Applied Ecology, taught Rewcastle and Chatman various techniques used in soil science research, but also gave the girls insight into how their Chinese culture and education informed their research as scientists contributing to a globalized knowledge base. “The Chinese graduate students welcomed us into their labs, their culture, and their lives. The patience and generosity that I was shown will forever stand as a model for me as I pursue opportunities for intercultural collaboration in the future,” said Rewcastle.

Rewcastle and Chatman’s six weeks in China culminated with a formal presentation of the research that they had completed and a short lecture on their lives as undergraduates in the US, which was given to the faculty, senior researchers, and graduate students involved in similar research projects at the Institute of Applied Ecology.

This cultural exchange for research purposes is an invaluable experience for everyone involved. All students, both the Chinese graduate students and the American undergraduates, expressed interest and hope that these sorts of cultural and scientific interchanges between the US and China will become commonplace in the future.

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