On Reflection: Global Aspirations

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Washington state has long enjoyed strong exports to China. It could soon benefit from easier access to some of China’s most brilliant young engineers and scientists. That’s thanks to the establishment of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), an educational institute launched by the University of Washington and Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University.

GIX will begin modestly in the fall of 2016 with a class of about 35 students, but it expects to have 3,000 within a decade. Each student will be part of a multinational, multidisciplinary team that will work on a single 15-month project that takes advantage of the students’ respective areas of expertise in technology, design and entrepreneurship.

“Uniting students with faculty, professionals, industry leaders and entrepreneurs from a variety of disciplines will foster expansive thinking and better prepare a generation of leaders with a passion for discovery and the ability to be nimble,” says UW Interim President Ana Mari Cauce.

Shwetak Patel, a UW professor of computer science who designed much of the new curriculum for the GIX program and will be teaching there, says the idea is for students to be able to apply immediately to their projects the information they learn in their coursework.

Tsinghua University President Qiu Yong is ambitious about the goals of GIX. “There are global issues like climate change and food shortages,” he says. “We need cooperation to address these challenges.”

The GIX campus will be built in Bellevue’s new Spring District and could ultimately occupy as much as 20 percent of the 36-acre development. Although the location is inconvenient to the UW’s main campus in Seattle, it is close to a proposed light rail station that will allow easy access to two new rail stops soon to open in the University District.

Microsoft, which has close ties to Tsinghua, often called the MIT of China, helped develop the GIX concept and is supporting the new institution with an initial grant of $40 million. Tsinghua and the UW are equal partners in GIX, and other leading universities will be invited to join in as equal partners.

GIX could go a long way toward filling the need for graduate students with technology and design skills. Those enrolled will pay market-based tuition, which could be upward of $40,000 for the 15-month program. 

Although GIX does nothing to fill the huge demand for undergraduate students in computer science, UW computer science professor Ed Lazowska says it would be attractive to many of his students as well as to China’s top technology students.

The focus of GIX is similar to that of Cornell Tech, a new Cornell University campus focused on technology and design that opens in 2017 and, when complete, is expected to cost $2 billion. However, says Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, “In 20 years, GIX will be every bit as important as or more so than Cornell Tech.” GIX’s biggest advantage, Smith adds, will be its relationship to institutions like Tsinghua, which will draw top faculty and students to the campus. “While Cornell has strong ties to Ithaca,” Smith says, “GIX has Beijing.”

GIX arrives at a time of deep concern over Chinese government activities with respect to hacking computer systems of American firms and federal institutions. The UW sees GIX as a way of strengthening technological, economic and political ties between the two nations. 

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