Educating students to succeed in the global workplace isn’t just a lofty slogan. Today it’s a necessity. Hundreds of UT Knoxville alumni work in China or travel there frequently. Tennessee Alumnus thanks the many alumni who sent information about their experiences. Unfortunately we couldn’t feature all of them. Here are a few that represent just what a small world our planet has become.
Jim Lambert (Knoxville ’90) worked in China for 11 years beginning in 2004. Today Lambert is senior vice-president and China analyst for Globecot/Jernigan Group in Nashville. “I primarily deal with business development but also work the trading desk within our brokerage unit. We are in the cotton and textiles business. China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of cotton, as well as the world’s largest producer and exporter of textile and apparel products. I travel to China on average seven to eight times a year.”
Lambert says the urbanization of China is startling. “However, the change I most admire is the growing confidence of the Chinese people, and I don’t mean this in a nationalistic sense–rather, the rightful return of a very old and proud people to their place in the global pecking order.”
Lambert strongly recommends that new UT graduates work outside the U.S. as soon as they can. “In China, there are plenty of opportunities for recent grads to teach English. The industry built up around teaching English as a foreign language can’t hire enough students. Some schools that are looking for English teachers even provide accommodation for their teachers.”
Renee Curry (Knoxville ’01) is North Asia sales representative for Firestone Industrial Products, which specializes in manufacturing air springs for vehicle suspension. She travels to China two or three times a year and works daily with customers in Asia. “I have been to China several times and each time there is something new,” she says. “I mostly travel to Beijing to visit our office and work with the people there. I think my manager said it best when he said, ‘China is like the wild west.’ ”
She says differences in culture, customs, and cuisine present challenges. “Luckily, the Chinese are very quick to adapt, and anyone traveling internationally should have a similar outlook. The Chinese are very accommodating and eager to share their culture. I have made some close friends, and I look forward to each time I visit.” Curry lives in Indianapolis.
Harold Idell (Knoxville ’68) is a managing director for FedEx Express Global Vehicle department with about 700 employees. For the past 10 years, he has traveled to China five or six times a year as part of his responsibility for vehicle maintenance and engineering in Asia, including China.
“I have watched the automobile industry in China change more in the last ten years than it did in the U.S. in a hundred years. The building boom is unbelievable. When I first started going to China, the Chinese citizen was listening to the government’s plans, and many were still wondering if it was real. Today, they all have hope and faith that they can do better, and many are. Many, many more will.
“I tell everyone under the age of fifty to start learning basic Chinese. We are all going to need it to be successful in business.”
James Wicker (Knoxville ’06) is a postdoctoral researcher at the National Astronomical Observatory, Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing. His UT degree is a Ph.D. in physics. “I started working here last May and I will be here for at least two years.” He says he has great research opportunities, and he enjoys living in an “exciting and vibrant city like Beijing.
“Beijing is enormous both in size and population. Before coming to live here, I never had the experience of living in a major metropolis. I really like all the cultural opportunities and the rapid pace of development. The city is preparing to host the Summer Olympics. I see changes in the skyline almost every day. I also like traveling around the city. The city is so large that even people who live here for years cannot see every part. The only part of the city that I don’t like is the air pollution. Some days are better than others in terms of air quality.”
Wicker says he “gets by” with his knowledge of the Mandarin language. “I studied Mandarin for several years while I was at UT. I also practiced with some Chinese friends before I came here. I speak and read well enough that I can function independently here, and I can communicate with most ordinary people without much difficulty. I have been surprised at how open and receptive my colleagues are to working with a foreigner. We talk some about cultural differences, but the differences do not really affect my working situation.”
Richard Egli’s work in China could help clear the air. Egli (Knoxville ’83) and other staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission went to Beijing last summer to train Chinese staff on nuclear reactor design and operation. China has ordered four Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors.
Egli says China has historically relied on fossil fuels to generate electrical power, “and the effects of this were evident when I visited Beijing. Since China’s electrical infrastructure is not that extensive, most power plants are located in close proximity to large cities like Beijing. Due to this, air quality in these areas is very poor at times.”
He says China is using conservation measures in the short term to try to improve the situation before the summer Olympics. For the long term however, China is starting an extensive nuclear power plant construction program. Egli and the NRC delegation shared information about their organization’s structure and processes. “We very much want the Chinese to implement a technically strong nuclear regulatory body such that new nuclear power plants in their country are operated safely.”
Curtis J. Richardson
Curtis J. Richardson has been to China twice and cooperated with the Chinese Academy on environmental issues of water quality and wetland restoration. Richardson (Knoxville ’72) is a professor and the director of the Duke University Wetlands Center.
“We met most recently on problems of very poor water quality coming from China into the Red River of Vietnam. The amount of toxic materials flowing from industry in China is killing the fisheries in Vietnam on this river. We visited the upper reaches of the Yangtze River [Tiger Leaping Gorge] and then went into Vietnam and explored the Red River basin.” Richardson calls the situation “one of the great transboundary water-quality issues in Asia.”
Travis Kilgore teaches English to Chinese children aged 4 to 12. “I work for a company called Shane English Beijing. Teaching kids is absolutely fantastic. You learn a lot about yourself when you are stuck in a room for an hour and a half with such a language barrier.”
Kilgore’s degree is in geography. But a summer study trip to China with UT’s Dr. Shih-lung Shaw persuaded him to stay. “Now, especially with the upcoming Olympics, is such an exciting time to be in Beijing. The rate at which the city is developing is truly unbelievable, and the face of the culture is changing with it.”
Kilgore says the pace of life in Beijing is much faster than Knoxville or his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. He says he eats out frequently because food is inexpensive. “Not only is the food cheap, but it is very tasty and is served in huge amounts. I live next to an open-air food market where I can get any kind of fresh fruit, vegetable, bread, or meat I want. I have eaten more fruit here than I ever have in my life!” He’s constantly busy seeing the sights of Beijing. “There are so many places to visit and so much history to see that many people who have lived here their whole lives have not been able to see it all. Needless to say, I keep myself occupied.”
Charles Dalch (Knoxville ’68) has lived in Shanghai for more than 2 years. The UT accounting graduate is managing director of Deloitte & Touche Overseas Services LLC. “Shanghai is an exciting place to live because of the tremendous economic growth and increase in personal spending of the population.”
Dalch says one of the most significant changes he has noticed is the “rapid increase in personal wealth of the Chinese as evidenced by the increasing number of luxury automobiles on the roads, particularly in Shanghai.”
Mose Yvonne Brooks Hooks
Mose Yvonne Brooks Hooks (Knoxville ’73) was involved in the normalization of relationships with China. She writes: “I have traveled and studied in China, in addition to leading professional education delegations, at least four or five times. The first time was in 1975 .â€‰.â€‰. during the administration of President Nixon. I went with Dr. Bettye Caldwell, one of the founders of Head Start, from Syracuse University. We visited schools, communes, and other entities studying the care of children by mothers in the People’s Republic of China. I was a member of the national board of U.S. China People’s Friendship Association, which played a key role in the normalization with China.”
When Chairman Deng Xiaoping came to the United States to visit President Nixon, Hooks was among the members of the national board of the Friendship Association who were invited to have dinner with the chairman.
Vaughn McCoy has been to China about 30 times in his role as senior global procurement manager for Eastman Chemical Company. “I negotiated a joint venture to build a plant to produce tackifiers for hot melt adhesives. I had to go to China every month for a couple of weeks each time. It was interesting to see the country transform in just a few years from millions of bicycles to modern cities with expressways, bullet trains, and modern airports.
“I found the Chinese people to be very friendly and anxious to enter the modern world. My education at UT in chemical engineering certainly was an essential ingredient that allowed me to have this opportunity.”
Jo Anne Sellars
Jo Anne Sellars of Montclair, New Jersey, goes to China not for work but to perfect her tai chi. “Our teacher there is Yang Zhenduo, the fourth-generation grand master of the Yang style tai chi chuan. The competition and demonstration I take part in takes place in Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province.
“I took part in the tournament in 2002 and 2007. In 2005, I was privileged to attend the celebration honoring the eightieth birthday of Grand Master Yang Zhenduo. The tournament is generally four days long, and then most of us stay for at least another week to experience a different area of China.” She has climbed in the mountains of the Huangshan, cruised the Yangtze and the three gorges (site of a huge new hydroelectric dam), and visited the panda preserve and the Dujiangyan irrigation project. Sellars (Knoxville ’57) says she’ll return to China in 2009 or 2011.