Visiting Scholar Li Wang Reflects on Time at Mansfield

From August 2017 through February 2018, Professor Li Wang of Xi’an University of Science and Technology in Xi’an, China served as a visiting scholar in the Mansfield University Department of Geosciences. Prior to returning to China, she presented to the Department of Geosciences and received her certificate of program completion from President Scott Barton. She also penned the following reflection about her time at Mansfield University.

Thanks to MU (Mansfield University) and XUST (Xi’an University of Science and Technology), I had the opportunity to stay at MU for half a year to experience an American culture and academic environment. I would like to share my impressions of American college life and cultural differences during my visit to Mansfield University.

Campus Description

Mansfield University, which was founded in 1857, is a member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. It is nestled in the beautiful mountains of northern Pennsylvania. The air here is fresh, and surroundings are clean. The town Mansfield only has about 4000 people, and there are around 2000 students on campus, so this rural area has a much lower population density than many places in China.

Although small, MU has all the resources of a comprehensive university, as well as several unique advantages, including a personalized and friendly learning environment. The red-brick campus buildings provide a picturesque scene against the landscape of towering trees on nearby mountains.

Mansfield also has excellent facilities and technological resources. There is free, fast Wi-Fi to access data, online library databases, convenient inter-library loan for scholarly materials, and thousands of books in historic North Hall. In academic buildings like Retan, Belknap, Grant Science Center, and Elliot Hall, students are busy doing research. In Steadman Theater, Straughn Hall, and Allen Hall, students learn and practice music and art. Manser provides a wonderful daily dining experience. Kelchner Fitness Center and Decker Gym are well equipped with the latest fitness equipment and recreational facilities to keep students physically healthy. Campus accommodations are clean and convenient, and residential halls have kitchens, laundry facilities, study rooms, and entertainment areas. MU even provided me with an independent office in Belknap Hall as well as a single apartment in Sycamore Hall, so I could conduct research as well enjoy my own personal space.

MU is famous for being one of the safest college campuses in the United States. During my stay here, I always felt safe and comfortable even though the news sometimes showed natural disasters and some violence in different parts of the country. It snows here in the winter, but traffic is never blocked: hard-working and cheerful staff always clear the snow in a timely manner. My deepest appreciation goes to Mansfield staff, who work tirelessly to make sure we are all safe and sound!

Educational Style

Along with scholarship, MU emphasizes the development of students’ personalities as well leadership potential. American education is highly diversified. Mansfield University seeks not only to impart professional knowledge to students, but also to cultivate their character, enrich their cultural understanding, and develop their service experience. Passing examinations and earning credits are only part of the story.

Faculty each have their own syllabus and unique way of teaching. Students have required courses, but they also choose courses electives according to their interests. Students are active and pay attention during class, and the phenomenon of cell phone use in class is seldom seen.

My major is safety management, which is part of the Mansfield University Department of Geosciences. I observed a number of classes. My mentor, Dr. Lee Stocks, brought a safety harness model to the classroom and combined on-site safety management experience with the safety knowledge model. Professor Peter Vanderlyke used case analysis to help students find information online to solve safety problems. Linda Kennedy and Lilace Guignard focus on combining theory and practice, taking students to the Tioga Reservoir as well as Leonard Harrison and Colton Point State Parks to carry out outdoor classes. In many classrooms, a “group cooperative learning” style is typical, which helps students respect and share ideas with and respect each other, as well learn to think in multiple ways.

Sometimes, American education seems more practical, training students to learn and innovate by themselves. American tests are less about theory and more about practice. Chinese education should focus more on the diversity of students’ personalities and focus on quality as well as quantity.

I also experienced fire drills, which were carried out at non-scheduled times. When an alarm bell rings in the residential hall, everyone is evacuated as an established safety procedure. Fire drills in Chinese colleges are almost always posted in advance, and safety consciousness should be constantly improved.

Undergraduate Education

There are honors programs in MU, providing students with a dynamic learning environment, including collaborative research projects, individual research projects, and field internships. When students graduate, they receive an honors program certificate.

One of the differences between the US and China is the length and frequency of classes. In the US, students go to between one-three classes a week for one course, but there is a lot of homework for each class. If students finish their reading tasks and demonstrate original thinking, they get high marks. Second, if students miss a lot of class, they may not earn full credit and might even fail the class. Thirdly, academic integrity is essential, and plagiarism and cheating on exams are taken very seriously.

Undergraduate students in the US have a lot of freedom to choose majors. For example, students can choose a major according to their interests and hobbies even after their first year of study, not before college admission as in China. Students can even change majors or choose different courses within the same major. Students from different grades may be in the same classroom, which promotes thinking in different ways. Diverse opinions cultivate students’ ability to learn independently. Students are encouraged to express their opinions freely in class.

US students have two semesters a year (fall and spring) and may take summer classes or look for an internship of summer job. Internship experiences help open the door to careers after graduation.

Social Life

Thanks to the many student organizations in MU, students may participate in television, radio, and newspaper editing and production. There are many sports events and music performances, so students enjoy a rich, colorful life. For example, there was a welcome fiesta held by resident assistants when the new semester began, a big celebration called LUMA (Light Up Mansfield Again), a fireside picnic held by geoscience teachers and students, a bus trip to Niagara Falls, international student cultural exchange activities, experience at churches and religious culture, basketball and football games between competing colleges, music concerts, a fireside chat with President Barton in the student dormitory, rewards for outstanding students, internship opportunity sessions, and so on. You will never feel bored if you engage in social activities at Mansfield University!

Mansfield administration, faculty, staff, and students were all very friendly and supportive to me. Provost John Ulrich invited me to his home for Thanksgiving dinner. My mentor, Dr. Lee Stocks, and I often talked about differences between Chinese and US safety management teaching. President Barton, Provost Ulrich, Dean Nancy Sidell, and Professor Brad Lint warmly welcomed me and introduced me to MU principles and American social life features. Marie Domenech took excellent care of me, providing me with cozy living arrangements and assisting me in many matters. Edgard Domenech was incredibly helpful in facilitating mail and package services. Mike Stamp and the RAs in Sycamore gave me a lot of help in my accommodations. There are many, many more people I would also like to thank. In a word, MU was like my American family.

Although I was only at Mansfield University for half a year, I learned a lot about native American life. I also felt the positive energy of teachers and students, and my own vision broadened. I thought about how to improve professional and international education, and I also made a lot of lifelong friends with whom I shared Chinese culture and my research. I believe there will be a brilliant future between MU and XUST, and we should continue to closely cooperate and communicate.

Thank you, Mansfield University, for everything!