By David Lias
The second American Visiting Institute for Chinese Entrepreneurs ended Wednesday, July 10, on the University of South Dakota campus with more than just pomp and circumstance.
At the conclusion of a ceremony at Farber Hall in which the eight Chinese participants “graduated” from the institute, a document was signed by USD and delegation officials indicating plans will be pursued to construct a new residence hall on the USD campus for students from China and other foreign lands.
“We’ve been talking for several years about how we at the University of South Dakota can work more closely with our friends,” said Dr. Chuck Staben, USD provost, “and we’ve decided that one thing we’d like to pursue is the possibility of an international residence hall near our campus.”
Staben and Ming Liu, a representative of the institute, signed a memorandum of understanding, which Staben described as “the beginning of our planning process to build this international residence hall,” Liu’s wife, Dr. Ling Zhang, serves as USD’s International Coordinator and also participated in Wednesday’s ceremonies.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who spoke at Wednesday’s ceremony, and Professor Bingquan Lu, whose friendship with former USD professor Eldon Nygaard of Vermillion helped launch the institute last year, both witnessed the signing of the document.
Lu, president and chief researcher of Beijing Bo Zhi Hang Research Institute of Commercial Real Estate, is considered a leading expert on business development.
“This is an agreement that President (James) Abbott has authorized me to sign on behalf of USD,” Staben said, “an agreement that I’m sure would not have come to fruition without Professor Lu’s help.
The eight institute graduates wore gowns and mortarboards for Wednesday’s ceremony. Each student was also “hooded” by Staben and Kurt Hackemer, professor of history at USD.
The institute, which began July 7, marks the second time that a delegation from China has traveled to USD to take part in an entrepreneurial program. The inaugural institute was held in April, 2012.
Earlier during Wednesday’s ceremony, Staben talked about the value of the institute, which provided a delegation of 12 business leaders from China with information about investments in the United States. The four-day session included lectures, tours and demonstrations of South Dakota’s economic capabilities.
“We’ve learned some academic items, and we’ve learned a lot about each other’s cultures.” Staben said. “We’ve laughed a lot, because we find there are things that we all experience as people, whether we are Chinese or American.”
Staben noted that the institute wasn’t all work. Participants took time to become involved in a variety of activities, from trap shooting to taking tours of the National Music Museum in Vermillion.
Staben noted that Wednesday’s graduation ceremony for the participants was “wonderful because it recognizes an important transition in our lives,” he said. “In this graduation, I think we are all experiencing a bit of a transition together. Our students have some new knowledge about investment and finance in the United States, but more importantly, all those who participated in the institute have a greater understanding and an enhanced friendship with one another.”
“I know you’ve had some fun experiences, but I hope you’ve also enjoyed learning about investing in South Dakota,” Gov. Dennis Daugaard told the institute’s graduates. “It is good for China and South Dakota to develop business relationships. South Dakota is exporting more than $100 million in goods to China now.”
The governor noted that three years ago, China was South Dakota’s fifth largest trading partner.
“Now China is our third largest trading partner. However, it wasn’t really until I traveled to China as part of our trade mission that I truly appreciated the opportunities that we have to work together,” he said.
Daugaard said he has been part of two trade missions to China since taking office.
“Thanks to Dr. Lu and others in China, I realize what great opportunities there are in China for partnerships and international trade,” he said.
The governor said he hopes graduates of South Dakota’s public universities may one day join forces with the graduates with the graduates of this week’s institute.
“I hope everyone here today hopes that you will join the South Dakota graduates to invest in South Dakota and work together to make South Dakota an even better place,” he said.
“This is the second time that I’ve led entrepreneurs from China to come to visit America, and, in fact, this tour is even more excited and passionate,” Lu said. “I would like to turn this visiting institute into a long-term partnership.”
Lu talked about the strong friendship he has developed with Nygaard, who operates Valiant Vineyards in Vermillion.
“South Dakota, in my heart, is my second home,” Lu said, “because Eldon introduced this beautiful and peaceful state to me.”
He also thanked Gov. Daugaard for conducting trade missions to China and further developing a strong relationship between his nation and South Dakota.
Lu noted that the number of participants was less than expected because half of the group’s visas were rejected.
“Even though half of our candidates were held up in China because of the rejection of visas, they still have this great hope that one day they will come to South Dakota to learn,” he said. “They sincerely hope that they can come to South Dakota to extend their learning.”