Chinese Alumni Forge Global Connections

As the world’s second-largest global economy and the largest importer to the United States, China is vital to universities looking to make strong global connections.

Increasingly, universities are looking to their alumni in China for help creating these important international links, and for the University of Pittsburgh, that effort is being bolstered by one key graduate.

“Since leaving Pitt 30 years ago, I have watched the University grow from afar and I have seen its reputation as a destination for a great education spread,” said University of Pittsburgh alumnus Gaoning “Frank” Ning (BUS ’86G), who helped to organize a recent gathering of Pitt alumni in China. “However, Pitt’s name is still not as well-known in China as it should be.”

As chair of Sinochem Group, a Fortune Global 500 company with holdings in energy, chemical, agriculture and real estate, Ning is well-known in China and around the world. Ning is also one of the members of the newly formed Chancellor’s Global Advisory Council, composed of accomplished alumni from eight countries and multiple sectors of the global economy in support of the University’s global strategy. The council holds its inaugural meeting on Oct. 26.

China is home to 753 Pitt alumni, the largest group of foreign alumni from Pitt. In addition, in the last decade, the University’s global presence has nearly doubled with more than 3,100 international students enrolled in 2017 — 1,785 of them from China.

The higher education consulting group Red Brick reports that affinity groups such as the one created by Pitt in China are crucial to universities harnessing the power of their alumni. Engaged alumni can help recruit students, raise scholarship funds and provide job and business opportunities for fellow alumni.  

“We’re expanding our international footprint in new and exciting ways,” Vice Provost for Global Affairs Ariel C. Armony (A&S ’98G) said. “That includes creating countrywide alumni associations like the one just showcased in China through Frank’s efforts.”

To help raise Pitt’s profile in China, Ning threw his support behind an alumni gathering there earlier this year focused on networking and renewing friendships. It was attended by more than 140 alumni in China as well as administrators and current students from Pitt.

While the University of Pittsburgh has held several alumni events in China over the last five years, the gathering backed by Ning attracted the most prestigious list of alumni to date, said Jason Kane, director of constituent relations at Pitt’s University Center for International Studies.

In the last decade, the University’s global presence has nearly doubled with more than 3,100 international students enrolled in 2017 — 1,785 of them from China.

University of Pittsburgh Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Patricia Beeson, who spoke at the China event, said “it was a spectacular gathering of Pitt alumni. The personal and professional connections made will help build new synergies and are already bearing fruit.”

During the event, Pitt senior Erika Gotway was introduced to the founder and CEO of Nanjing eHello Online Education Co., Ltd., Dongliang Yang, who offered her an internship at the company on the spot.  She began work a few weeks later teaching English courses online, a position she still holds.

Gotway was among the Pitt to You Ambassadors — Pitt students who traveled to China to meet Chinese students who would be starting their first year at Pitt in the fall of 2017 — who attended the alumni event.

Additional internship opportunities at the HNS Group and the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing also grew out of the event. Details of those partnerships are still being finalized and Pitt’s Asian Studies Center is working with both organizations to identify the best interns. 

Plans for the next meeting in China are in the works as Pitt continues to build on the momentum, according to Armony.

“This is no different than a university’s career center creating connections with a major employer to create a pipeline for graduates looking for jobs or a college building ties to a top-performing high school for recruitment,” Armony said. “It takes dedicated and influential leaders that we can rely on to carry out the efforts on a local level.”

Pitt has countrywide clubs in several countries including Korea, Taiwan, Brazil and Colombia, according to the Pitt Alumni Association.

“Pitt is so fortunate to have exceptionally engaged international alumni who are helping us to broaden our international reach,” Beeson said. “Having Frank Ning actively support the University’s global vision is truly inspiring and deeply appreciated.”