The Establishment of the Global Transit Innovations Program at the University of Minnesota

By Yingling Fan (yingling@umn.edu), Associate Professor, University of Minnesota

Providing innovative public transit is crucial for ensuring that people around the world—whether in large or small cities, suburbs, or rural areas—have a high quality of life.  And just like other sectors, public transit systems increasingly face the challenge to evolve and adapt to the rapid pace of global changes related to technology, demography, climate, and culture. In light of these global changes, international collaboration will result in more robust research and more innovative practice.

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Established in December 2015, the Global Transit Innovations (GTI) program at the University of Minnesota aims to promote international collaboration and create internationalized educational opportunities for students, researchers, and practitioners in the field of public transportation.  To do so, GTI connects leading researchers and educators across the globe. Currently, GTI has fourteen faculty contributors from six different countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, China, and the United States. Faculty collaborations range from co-authorships of research articles, reports, and proposals to co-development of open data products and study abroad courses (see gti.umn.edu). In this blog post, I focus on GTI’s education component.

To foster a global student experience, GTI has developed two educational programs with university students in the U.S. and China, including a summer training program that brings Chinese students to the U.S. and a study abroad program that takes American students to China: 

  • The study abroad program is an intensive two-week course taking American students to multiple cities in China. Through lectures and site visits, the course explored how Chinese cities are working to satisfy the mobility and accessibility needs of the largest urban population in the world. The course features photovoice assignments in which study abroad students are paired with local Chinese students to use cameras to record and reflect on issues associated with globalization and rapid urbanization. The paired student groups were asked to bring what they saw and what they felt into the classroom using photos and short narratives.  They were asked to recognize and honor the value of subjective experience, and reflect deeply on cross-cultural and cross-country perspectives.
     
  • The summer training program hosts undergraduate students from multiple Chinese universities. The program is designed for senior undergraduate students who are interested in graduate-level education in urban and transportation planning. Instructors in the program use graduate-level course materials from the University of Minnesota.  The program also features professional seminars by leading practitioners in the Twin Cities region, and includes site visits touring a variety of transportation facilities and urban infrastructure projects. The demand for our training program has increased.  In summer 2016, we had 24 students from two Chinese universities. In summer 2017, we had 32 students from three Chinese universities. And due to high demand, we expanded and customized the training program to host transportation professionals from China. In 2017, we successfully hosted 15 professionals from China on top of the students we hosted in the training program.

Both programs were great successes.  In the study abroad program, students appreciated the right balance between lectures and site visits and the strong connections between the lectures and readings and site visits.  Further, I was able to integrate the study abroad program with the summer training program, which creates robust exchange and networking experiences for both American and Chinese students.  Chinese universities and organizations that participated in the summer training program hosted American students in the study abroad course.  And American students in the study aboard course voluntarily organized tours and events when Chinese students and professional were visiting the University of Minnesota. More importantly, both programs invigorated networks at various universities and research institutions involved in ongoing and future transportation research and exchanges with the University of Minnesota. Faculty contributors to the educational programs became research collaborators. And host organizations for the educational program became sponsors of research projects at GTI. In the end, the educational and research components at GTI become synergistic and elevate each other towards global significance.

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