ICB 25th anniversary

Bridging American, Chinese cultures: ICB celebrates 25 years

November 19, 2019

This fall, CU Denver celebrates 25 years of a one-of-a-kind partnership that unites two countries through lifechanging educational experiences.

At the International College Beijing (ICB), a joint program between CU Denver and China Agricultural University, Chinese students are immersed in American culture through courses taught by CU Denver faculty at the downtown Denver campus and the China Agricultural University campus in Beijing. In the fall of 2019, CU Denver welcomed more than 150 ICB students, including 75 new students, who are working toward an undergraduate degree in communication or economics, or a dual degree.

The ICB program not only promotes understanding across cultural differences but also teaches skills that attract global employers, said Lisa Keränen, chair of the CU Denver Department of Communication. Former ICB students have pursued a variety of successful careers—one alum is a multimedia reporter for China Daily, another is a media editor for China National Geographic, and another is a business manager for China Aerospace Construction Group Co., Ltd.

“In our global information society, learners need links to other nations and cultures,” Keränen said. “Our joint program helps learners consider perspectives besides their own, develop more reflective selves, and gain the intercultural communication and problem-solving skills that global employers seek.”

Honoring the past, present, and future of ICB

Sonja Foss, PhD, a professor emerita who served as the chair of the Communication Department in the early days of ICB, describes the history of ICB as somewhat of a love story.

There was an initial infatuation stage—ICB offered a unique opportunity to bridge two cultures through an academically rigorous degree program. Then there was the experimental, getting to know each other stage, when several CU Denver faculty members made the bold move to Beijing to teach at ICB. They were immersed in a culture with breathtaking scenery and exquisite cuisine, but also with challenges such as driving on streets with no signals.

Next was the bonding stage, when the program grew stronger, welcoming more students and faculty and incorporating graduation and scholarship ceremonies. There was a breakup in 2003, when CU Denver pulled out of the program due to concerns over a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in China. And then there was the happy ending, when the university reinstated the program in 2007, bringing us to where we are today.

“We have to keep working at the program,” said Foss, one of several speakers at the 25th anniversary celebration for ICB students and faculty on Monday, Nov. 18, at the Lawrence Street Center. The event paralleled a celebration that took place mid-October across the globe in Beijing. Foss said ICB “connects us to the larger world in a way that’s unique among U.S. universities.”

Chancellor Dorothy Horrell expressed her gratitude to ICB faculty, students, and families. “I hope that you feel welcome here at CU Denver, and that this is an experience you will cherish for the rest of your life.”

Other speakers included Alana Jones, associate vice chancellor of International Affairs; Pamela Jansma, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Jiahao Shen, president of the ICB student club; and Buhong Zheng, chair of the Economics Department.

Learning and thriving in the heart of Denver

Together, CU Denver and China Agricultural University work effectively in designing programs based on industry trends. The result is smaller, focused classes, where opportunities for experiential education are abundant and faculty-student interaction is encouraged. 

“As a faculty member, this program has expanded my worldview immeasurably,” Keränen said. “A number of faculty in our department would tell you this program changed their life. You can see it reflected in our research and our teaching.”

ICB students and CU Denver faculty
ICB students and CU Denver faculty

Buhong Zheng, PhD, chair of the CU Denver Economics Department, agrees. When he entered his role 11 years ago, there were maybe nine ICB students studying economics. Now his department sees 60 – 80 new ICB students each year. What makes the program stand out? The quality faculty and strong students, who often serve as inspiration for CU Denver’s domestic students, Zheng said.

ICB students make the most of their rich educational opportunities at CU Denver by actively engaging in campus events, studying abroad through CU Denver programs, volunteering in local communities, and maintaining, on average, a GPA of 3.5. 

One of those students is Xinyue Li, a junior majoring in communication. She chose ICB at CU Denver because of the variety of courses and professors. Studying with American students is challenging, she said—but in a good way. She plans to stay in the U.S. for graduate school. “ICB is a bridge between the U.S. and China so that we can learn more about the American culture,” said Li, adding, “It’s very different than what I’ve seen on the news.”

Graduates of the ICB program join more than 1,000 ICB alumni as the next generation of global citizens—innovators, communicators, policy makers, and leaders. Alumni have been accepted into esteemed graduate programs at Boston University, Lehigh University, George Washington University, London School of Economics, Georgetown University, CU Denver, and other respected institutions.

Hear from current ICB students

Qi Zhang, a senior majoring in economics, attends ICB at CU Denver for the selection of classes. He’s pursuing a minor in math, he said, adding that minoring in a specific/different subject would be difficult in his home country. He also likes the variety of professors and the sense of community on the Auraria Campus. After graduating this spring, he plans to go back to Beijing to complete his master’s degree. “Everyone is friendly here,” Zhang said. “And the weather is way better.”

Yunjie Hu, a senior majoring in communication in the ICB program

Yunjie Hu, a senior majoring in communication, saw ICB at CU Denver as a great opportunity to study abroad and experience America, she said. She also noted the quality of professors and the number of friends she’s made in Denver. She plans to stay in the U.S. for graduate school. “People here are every polite, friendly, and open to Chinese people,” Hu said.

Learn more about International College Beijing, CU Denver.