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Interns to Connect Chinese Schools to Internet

Jiri Schindler--The Tech
As part of the MIT-China Educational Technology Initiative program, students will travel to China this summer to help high schools connect to the Internet. (From left to right, front to back) Xiaomin Mu '00, (Second row) Daniel T. Hu '00, Jacob J. Seid '96, James M. Montgomery '98, Ron Cao '96, Daniel A. Dwyer '00.

By Sharmin Ghaznavi
Staff Reporter

This summer 13 MIT undergraduates will travel to China to make their contributions in an effort to bring international communities of students together. As interns in the MIT-China Educational Technology Initiative program, these students will help five high schools in China connect to the Internet.

It is hoped that this connection to the Internet will allow the high schools to tap into the vast educational possibilities provided by the medium and increase communication between students in different countries.

"We want to make this a global communication effort," said Daniel T. Hu '00, an intern in the program.

MIT-CETIinterns will spend six weeks at the high schools. In that time they will set up servers, teach students how to update and maintain the servers, introduce various software, and help students create their own World Wide Web pages.

Graduate students began program

Jacob J. Seid G and Ronald Cao G, students in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, started MIT-CETI to provide cross cultural opportunities to MITundergraduates. The program is the result of a project started a little less than two years ago by Seid and Cao called the Computer Educational Development Initiative.

That project took Seid and Cao to China to advance computer-aided education at Chinese high schools. Both said they have a deeper understanding of the Chinese people and culture as a result of their experience with CEDI. They also said they wanted to extend this opportunity to other MITundergraduates.

MIT-CETI is made possible by funding from the MIT-International Science and Technology Initiative and corporate sponsors.

A number of individuals have also provided significant support including Professor of Political Science and Director of MISTI Suzanne Berger; Hong Z. Tan SM '88, research scientist at the Media Laboratory; Li Xing, director of China's education network; and Zhang Weijiang, deputy director of Shanghai's Education Commission.

"We want [MIT-CETI] to be seen as a partnership. It takes people in China, at MIT, and corporations to make this possible," Cao said.

Students applied to participate

The program was advertised to the MITcommunity through open houses and the use of various e-mail lists. Over 50 students expressed interest, and 22 of them completed applications.

From those 22, interns were chosen based on three criteria: fluency in the language, technical competency, and personal initiative.

Interns work in teams that are based on complementary language and technical skills. This allows students who do not know the language an equal opportunity to take part in the program.

"There's more people who don't speak Chinese in the program than people who do speak Chinese," Cao said.

Each team is required to develop a proposal of how they will complete the project. These proposals are intended to draw on the interns' creativity to come up with the means to utilize their different skills and successfully complete the project.

In preparation for dealing with cultural differences and to make the most of the program, interns attended a cultural retreat sponsored by MISTI. Interns received instruction from professional cross-cultural consultant June Mei.

"I thought [the retreat] was very helpful. A number of misconceptions were cleared up. It was kind of like an eye opener," said intern James Montgomery '00.

Students express enthusiasm

Interns expressed excitement and enthusiasm about their involvement in MIT-CETI. Many interns noted the cultural and educational enrichment that they hope to gain from this summer's experience.

"It is a wonderful opportunity to teach and learn in a foreign setting," said Daniel A. Dwyer '00.

"There is a tremendous amount of culture and understanding that we can gain from this program," said Shamsul A. Sopiee '97.

Seid and Cao said it is the enthusiasm shown for MIT-CETI that will be key to the program's growth. Presently, there are plans to expand the program with possible branches at Harvard University and Stanford University.