A collaborative biomedical engineering department run by two Atlanta universities is recruiting the inaugural class for a Ph.D. program it is offering in conjunction with a respected Chinese institution.

Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology have collaborated in the biomedical engineering field since 1997.

Last fall members of the joint department, the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory, traveled to China to finalize details for a joint Ph.D. with Peking University, located in Beijing.

The schools hope to start classes by the fall, said Cheng Zhu, associate chair of international programs for the Coulter department.

Students can apply through the Coulter department or through Peking University.  The final admissions decisions rest with the Georgia Tech/Emory faculty, but Peking University officials will weed out Chinese candidates before sending their applications here for evaluation.

Each student will have an adviser on their home campus and a co-adviser on the secondary campus in the other country.

While most research will be conducted at the home campus, students must spend at least a year at the secondary campus.  For U.S. students, that means living in China during that year, and vice versa.

Officials said the collaboration offers a new paradigm in biomedical engineering, a field in which the engineering disciplines are applied to health care problems.

In today’s global economic environment, students need international experience, said Larry McIntire, chair of the Coulter department.

The program will help students and faculty “learn how to conduct research and business in a global arena and will prepare them to become international leaders in 21st-century biomedical engineering industry and academia,” he said in an Emory news release.

Emory, which already has health programs under way in China, saw this as an opportunity to further its global health objectives there, said Holly Korschun, director of research communications for Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center.

Students will benefit from the cross-cultural exchange of research ideas and methods, Ms. Korschun told GlobalAtlanta.

This type of global perspective has become imperative in the last past 20 years, said Dr. Zhu.

During that time, “if you look at the entire engineering (field), I think almost all the growth occurs in biomedical engineering,” he said.

“We think (the program) actually broadens the job market for the graduates,” he added.

Dr. Zhu said students will travel to their secondary campus during their third year in the program, which takes about five years on average to complete.

Chinese students must be proficient in English, but American students are not required to learn Chinese before they study in China.  All classes will be conducted in English.

“It’s probably limiting if we ask the American students at this point to have the Chinese language skill, but it’s not a hard requirement for the Chinese students because they all learn English,” Dr. Zhu said.

American students, however, are encouraged to learn some Chinese during their first two years in the program to enrich their overall living experience in China, he added.

While evaluating the program, Dr. Zhu traveled to Peking University and interviewed international students from Europe and Asia in a popular cafeteria. Almost all were learning the Chinese language, citing job opportunities as their main motivation. 

So far, many applications have come from Americans with Chinese last names, mainly second-generation Chinese-Americans, Dr. Zhu said.

He hopes to have five students enroll for the first year, a substantial increase for department that usually has 30 graduates per year.

The program with Peking University stems from a long partnership between Emory and Georgia Tech.

The schools started joint research 20 years ago and have had the biomedical engineering department since 1997 as well as a collaborative center for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine since 1998.

First talks about a China program developed in 2003.  In February 2006, a letter of intent was signed to develop a joint degree with Peking University, Dr. Zhu said.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...