Ron Poff teaches to the cohort of XDU-VT 3+1 students while visiting Xidian University in Xi’an, China. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Clevenger.

Although one would not know it at first glance, Blacksburg, Virginia, and Xi’an, China, share a surprising connection. The two cities are both situated at around the same latitude – 37 degrees north for Blacksburg and 34 degrees north for Xi’an. This geographical parallelism, although separated by over 7,500 miles, fosters an intriguing connection, bridging continents through their shared environmental traits despite vast cultural and historical differences.

However, the connection between Blacksburg and Xi’an goes even deeper, thanks to the relationship between the cities’ respective universities. Recently, this relationship achieved an important landmark, as an inaugural group of three Virginia Tech professors – Don HatfieldGregory Kogan, and Ron Poff – traveled to Xi'an to teach a cohort of students at the School of Economics and Management at Xidian University (XDU) as part of the XDU-VT 3+1 program.

XDU-VT 3+1

Announced in 2021 through a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese Ministry of Education, the XDU-VT 3+1 program trains management students at XDU who have an interest in applying big data technology to entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology to work cooperatively to lead world-class entrepreneurial ventures.

For three years, students take approved courses taught by Virginia Tech and XDU faculty in China, followed by 12 months of intensive coursework taught by Virginia Tech faculty in Blacksburg. Students in the program earn bachelor’s degrees from both institutions, Big Data Analysis from XDU, and Management with the Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Technology (EIT) concentration from Virginia Tech.

“The first-of-its-kind program is designed to present the bigger picture of global cooperation in business, particularly amongst the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies,” said Jennifer Clevenger, director of Global Study Abroad and director of the joint program. “Its collaborative learning model will also give students a better understanding of the countries’ different philosophies.”

Gregory Kogan, driven by the desire to share Virginia Tech’s culture and philosophy, found teaching at XDU to be a gratifying experience.

“The administrative team that hosted us there was simply excellent and went above and beyond to make our team there feel welcome,” said Kogan, assistant professor of practice in the Department of Accounting and Information Systems. “The students at XDU were extremely hard working and dedicated to the task of learning at a quick pace and in English, which is a second language to them.”

Impressed by the students' dedication and their eagerness to embrace the Hokie spirit, Kogan recognized the invaluable preparation these students received for their future at Virginia Tech.

“Overall, it was incredible to see the students adapt to a quick learning environment and I was just impressed by how dedicated they were. I was also delighted by how much the students enjoyed being new Hokies and how much they wanted to learn about Virginia Tech’s culture.

“It seemed like they just couldn’t wait to get to Virginia Tech.”

(From left) Management professors Ron Poff, Don Hatfield, and ACIS professor Gregory Kogan at the Xidian University Museum in Xi'an, China. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Clevenger.

‘An incredible experience’

One of the keys to the success of the XDU-VT 3+1 program are the abilities, and personalities, of the Virginia Tech faculty traveling to China. According to Clevenger, a better group could not have been chosen for the inaugural teaching expedition.

“They were flexible, resilient, worked long hours, and even did extra things like participating in an alumni event as well as a study abroad day,” Clevenger continued.

“Make no mistake, the schedule was intense,” said Ron Poff, assistant department head and associate professor of practice in the Department of Management.

“However, it was an incredible experience.”

According to Poff, teaching at XDU was a privilege. Having visited China several times during his professional career, he was an eager participant in the program.

“To have the opportunity to teach the same Pamplin course to our Hokies in Xi’an was an honor,” he said. “I had the chance to share my experiences, both from a Western cultural background combined with my global industry experience. As the weeks progressed, it was great to see the professional collaboration develop with my XDU teaching partner, Dr. Xu, and my XDU teaching assistant, Sunni. We became a great team implementing some unique assignments for the students to explore and discover American-style education.”

Clevenger added, “Ron Poff champions being a Hokie.”

What it means to be a Hokie

An important aspect of the program is ensuring that the XDU students feel like they are a part of Hokie Nation before they even set foot on the Virginia Tech campus.

This is accomplished, in part, by using a mentoring program. Current Virginia Tech students regularly meet with XDU students via Zoom to help familiarize the students with American culture and reduce any culture shock associated with the program.

However, if you want to grow Hokie spirit, you need only do one thing – send in the Hokie Bird.

“The XDU students love the Hokie Bird,” Clevenger said.

The college mascot is a uniquely American creation and something that Clevenger’s team took full advantage of. Partnering with Alumni Relations, Virginia Tech swag, including flags, mugs, bears, and shirts were sent to XDU students and participating XDU faculty to help them feel a connection to Hokie Nation.

“The students are excited that they are now Hokies,” Clevenger added.           

Moving forward for the future

Despite challenges, the unwavering commitment of professors, mentors, and alumni ensures the success of the XDU-VT 3+1 program. The resilience, adaptability, and unwavering support of the Virginia Tech faculty infuse the XDU students with a newfound sense of belonging to the Hokie community.

The VT-XDU collaboration stands as a testament to the power of education in transcending geographical boundaries and fostering mutual understanding, preparing students for a globally connected future rooted in shared knowledge and mutual respect.

“We understand that education is a way forward through political and ideological differences,” said Clevenger. “Our faculty get a different perspective and their students get a different perspective. We can get along and find positive ways to move forward for the future.”