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Postcards From China

July 1, 2013

For the second straight summer, professors Marc Herniter, PhD, and Zac Chambers, PhD, have taken their expertise in model-based systems design on the road to China. They are presenting a four-day introductory-level course to students at Hubei University, one of China’s largest automotive educational institutions. When not teaching, the faculty members will be learning about the country and its people. They will be sharing their experiences along the way.


Tuesday, July 9

      China - HUAT Discussions
  Beneficial Relations: Officials from Rose-Hulman and HUAT discuss building on the budding relationship between the two leading technological institutions. (Photo by Edie Richards)
The final day of the visit was reserved for some sightseeing at Wudang Mountain. The team, led by a representative from the Hubei International Cooperation and Exchange office, took a bus ride to the near top of the mountain. There was time for a local lunch fresh from the lake before a 10-minute cable car ride to the base of the golden summit, one of China’s most revered Taoist Temples—at an elevation of 5,300 feet. The trek included an approximate 500-foot vertical climb to the top up ancient stairs that date back to the 13th century.
“It was so worth it,” says Chambers. 
At this point clouds began rolling in, encasing the palace in an ethereal cloak.
A farewell dinner with Dean Wang and HUAT faculty ended the day. A four-hour drive to Wuhan led to an early ride on a bullet train to Shanghai for the final leg of the journey before returning home.


Monday, July 8

      Zac Marcgoldensummitwudang
  'Golden' Trip: Professors Zac Chambers (left) and Marc Herniter successfully traveled to the base of the golden summit, a historic China landmark that's at an elevation of 5,300 feet. (Photo by Edie Richards)
This was the last day of the model-based system design (MBSD) short course with 40 students and 16 faculty members showing tremendous dedication during the daily six-hour classes. Professor Bingfeng, one of the faculty members, plans to focus research in system modeling using MBSD principles while obtaining a doctorate degree at Jilin University (where Professors Herniter and Chambers presented a similar short course last summer).
“I hope to remain in contact with Professors Herniter and Chambers while I finish my PhD and return to HUAT,” he states.
The course ended in rock-star fashion with students spending about 15 minutes after class having their photographs taken with the modeling superstars from Rose-Hulman. 
“I was actually joking when I said we’d be available for autographs,” adds Herniter.
The day concluded with a second meeting with Professor Wang, Dean of the School of Automobile Engineering. He asserted the value of the Memorandum of Understanding between HUAT and Rose-Hulman. Discussions centered on a potential joint project that may feature laboratory updates, new and enhanced corporate relations, international collaboration on technical papers, and, of course, another MBSD workshop.
“This is an exciting next step for our institutions. Hopefully, there will be even more things to follow,” says Chambers.


Sunday, July 7

      China group photo
  Happy Group: Rose-Hulman professors Marc Herniter and Zac Chambers are pictured with several of the Hubei University of Automotive Technology students and faculty members participating in the model-based system design short course in China. (Photo by Edie Richards)

The third day of the model-based system design short course went very well. The pace is quickening as the students become more comfortable with Simulink. “They are picking it up really fast,” reports Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Marc Herniter. Students have created a basic model of a series electric vehicle and will spend tomorrow adding experimental data to improve their model accuracy. “Our students have done very well. Their effort represents Hubei very positively,” proudly states Yang Jin, a mechanical engineering professor at the host Hubei University of Automotive Technology (HUAT).

At the end of class, the students and faculty without a following engagement posed for a group photo. Even after six hours of focused computer work, there was an abundance of smiles and laughter.

Dinner was a unique cultural experience—a “family-style meal.” Professor Jin’s husband, Li, joined us for a meal that included eel, century egg, smoked pig ear, braised chicken kidneys, chicken feet, and cow intestine. “We make use of all animal parts and waste as little as possible,” explains Jin about this unique cultural experience. “You don’t find a meal like that in Terre Haute,” adds Herniter.

As with the prior meals, toasts of thanks and best wishes abounded. “The meal serves as a platform for creating and strengthening relationships. These last four meals have resulted in tremendous progress in building the Rose-Hulman/HUAT relationship,” says Chambers.


Saturday, July 6

          China classroom chambers
  Getting Down To Business: Mechanical Engineering Professor Zac Chambers helps students from Hubei University of Automotive Technology understand a key concept in the model-based system design short course being taught to Chinese students and faculty members. (Photo by Edie Richards)

Day 2 of the short course started once again in the student cafeteria with fried eggs, fried dumplings, and a spicey noodle soup. Class had a substantially smoother start as professors Marc Herniter and Zac Chambers spending more time working one-on-one with students. The lecture started with an overview of the model improvements to be made during the three-hour period with Professor Yang Jin of Hubei University of Automotive Technology (HUAT) providing translation. The students’ English reading skills was good enough to follow the notes and they were encouraged to work together.

“This was a very successful day with our new students,” says Herniter.

HUAT Dean Wang hosted dinner with the Rose-Hulman faculty duo, and discussion centered on building the educational partnership between the two institutions.


Friday, July 5

        China workshop
  Starting Short Course: Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Marc Herniter works with Hubei University of Automotive Technology students during the first day of the model-based system design short course. (Photo by Edie Richards)

We started our model-based system design short course in a cavernous computer laboratory, with workstations for nearly 150 students. The session was attended by 16 faculty members and 40 students who will be juniors during the 2013-14 academic year.

This session offered a teaching challenge for professors Marc Herniter and Zac Chambers. It was a very large room and students had English as a second language. “Our preliminary teaching style, so well received at Rose-Hulman, didn’t work here. So, we recalibrated at the end of the day with HUAT professors to improve for the next day,” says Chambers. “Our hands-on interaction with students was well received and we crossed some initial cultural challenges by circulating through the class and helping one on one—just as we do at Rose-Hulnman.”

“For having minimal Simulink training, the students are picking things up very quickly,” states Herniter.

Chambers and Herniter had further discussions with HUAT officials about how the two institutions can further collaborate.

“Hopefully, this new relationship with HUAT can help broaden Rose-Hulman’s global exposure and help our students become the international leaders of the upcoming century,” says Chambers.

Finally, Herinter and Chambers met with members of HAUT's Formula SAE team, which are China's national champions and preparing to compete in a competition in Germany. "We toasted a 'Give 'em Hell Hubei” cheer to the team's success," reports Chambers.


Thursday, July 4

      China banner
  Rock-Star Welcome: Professors Marc Herniter and Zac Chambers were welcomed to Hubei University of Automotive Technology for an information session on Rose-Hulman and graduate studies in the United States. (Photo by Edie Richards)

Following a good night’s sleep in the foreign faculty housing at Hubei University of Automotive Technology (HUAT), we toured the university’s laboratories. We were impressed by the use of graduate research to create labs for undergraduate courses, most noticeably the “CAN in a box” equipment. Most notable was a measurements lab involved a vehicle’s entire 12-volt system of a vehicle, along with a lab in which students tear down and reassemble engines and transmissions.  “The labs at Hubei are on par with those at Rose-Hulman and we have much to learn from our new partnership,” says Mechanical Engineering Professor Zac Chambers.

Later, Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Marc Herniter joined Chambers in providing a Rose-Hulman information session to approximately 200 HUAT students and administrators.

HUAT Vice President Luo Yong-ge hosted a dinner for the Rose-Hulman group. He thanked Rose-Hulman for hosting Mechanical Engineering Professor Yang Jin as a visiting scholar during the 2012-13 academic year, and hopes this begins a long relationship between the two institutions.

“In our opinion, things are looking pretty good for the rock stars in Shiyan,” says Chambers.


Wednesday, July 3

        China Trip-third day
  New Rose-Hulman Friend: Xun Ma, director of China’s International Cooperation and Exchange Office, enjoys the Rose-Hulman clock that she received during a dinner at Hubei University of Automotive Technology. (Photo by Edie Richards)

A pleasant 17-hour overnight train delivered professors Marc Herniter and Zac Chambers from Beijing to Shiyan, where they were met by Steve Huang, office manager from the International Cooperation and Exchange Office (ICEO). ICEO Director Xun Ma had made arrangements for the group to stay in apartments reserved for visiting foreign faculty. Serendipitously, a familiar face was right next door – 2012-13 Rose-Hulman Visiting Faculty Scholar Yang Jin, a mechanical engineering professor at Hubei University of Automotive Technology (HUAT). “Being on campus and dining in the student cafeterias is really going to help us get to know the culture of HUAT,” reports Chambers. “Xun went to great lengths to make us feel at home for our stay. I can already tell this is going to be a great experience.”

One of the first things that the Rose-Hulman group noticed was a sea of camouflage-decorated pants and blue shirts being worn by freshman Chinese students that were on campus to completed a required three-week military training course before starting the school year. A dinner and gift exchange with ICEO and HUAT officials completed another thrilling day.

Tomorrow schedule will feature tours of HUAT’s laboratory facilities and presenting a Rose-Hulman information session for Chinese students interested in attending graduate school in the United States. A similar session last year was attended by nearly 100 students at Jilin University, China’s largest automotive educational institution.


Tuesday, July 2

  Touring China: Professors Marc Herniter (left) and Zac Chambers had a busy day visiting many locations throughout China before getting ready to teach their workshop. (Photo by Edie Richards)

This trip continues to be filled with cultural adventures—eating spicy black fungus and fried whole prawns; touring the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Great Wall of China; and meeting local officials along the way. Rain prevented Marc and Zac from viewing the ceremonial lowering of China’s national flag. Former Rose-Hulman Visiting Scholar Yang Jin helped the duo navigate the Beijing subway and an electric three-wheeled taxis took them back to meet Ryan VandeWater, alumnus working for Cummins Engine in China.

“Beijing is way too big to seen in one day. I hope I can see it again,” says Herniter.

“As an engineer, the Great Wall was overwhelming,” reports Chambers. “It was unbelievable walking up the trail to the wall and realizing that we were traveling a similar route taken by the men that constructed the wall by carrying stone on their back. The wall makes our modern-day skyscrapers pale in comparison in the level of effort required to complete the task.”

The trip has allowed Chambers to become reacquainted with VandeWater, who served as Sophomore Advisor as Chambers was Resident Assistant on Rose-Hulman's residence life staff.

“it’s a pleasure to host my friends from Rose-Hulman. I hope they enjoy Beijing as much as I do,” states VandeWater.

Monday, July 1

        China Trip 2013-1
  Alumni Greeter: Mechanical engineering professor Zac Chambers was happy to be greeted at the Beijing airport by Rose-Hulman alumnus Ryan VandeWater. Both were members of the institute’s residence life staff during their undergraduate days on campus. (Photo by Edie Richards)

The professors were excited to get to Beijing over the weekend. They were welcomed to the country by Ryan VandeWater, a 1996 electrical engineering alumnus. Professor Chambers and VandeWater were members of the residence life staff for Baur-Sames-Bogart residence hall, and have kept in touch throughout their post-graduate years. When VandeWater learned that the faculty duo would be coming to China, he graciously offered to let the group stay at his apartment.

“(Ryan) promised to send his driver to pick us up at the airport. I wasn’t expecting him to be there as well with a ‘Dr. Awesome’ sign,” reports Chambers.

The Rose-Hulman group had a traditional Chinese meal at a local restaurant before planning visits to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

“It will be a sweet day of taking in some of the history and culture of this giant country,” states Chambers. “We have appreciated Ryan’s hospitality.”

Joining the group in China from America has been Yang Jin, PhD, who spent part of the 2012-13 academic year as a Rose-Hulman Visiting Scholar, and lent her technical expertise to the EcoCAR2 team. She is a mechanical engineering professor at China’s Hubei University of Automotive Technology.


Learn more about the faculty members’ trip to China at