Though some University students will take classes in Ann Arbor this spring and summer, others plan to continue their studies in the rural countryside of China.
Sponsored by the University’s Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, a new field-based course on sustainability will be launched near Beijing during the upcoming spring semester. Graduate students in the University’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning undergraduates of all majors are being considered for the program called “Toward a New Sustainable Environment in Light of the Changing Face of Rural (and Urban) China.”
Mary Ann Ray, clinical professor of architecture at the University, will teach the course. She said one of the major goals of the program, which will run from May 9 through July 10, will be to make the rural environment of China’s Pearl River Valley “more viable for living.”
According to Ray, the need for sustainability projects in China’s rural areas stems from the country’s large population. One-fifth of the world’s population lives in China, and about half of those people live in rural areas, Ray said.
“The cities are just not able to take the capacity of human beings coming into them,” Ray said.
Students taking the course will attempt to solve problems associated with rural living, including a lack of access to good health care and education and the absence of the Internet, Ray said. Jobs, including entrepreneurship opportunities, are also sparse, she said.
A group of about 12 to 15 students will be accepted into the program and will research and document the conditions of the villages where they will work.
The Pearl River Valley contains about 27 villages and is about 2.5 hours away from Beijing, according to the course syllabus. Students are expected to create to a new model for rural housing by modernizing living standards, which includes improving infrastructure, water purification and waste management.
Ray — who has prior experience taking student groups to Turkey, Mexico and Italy — has been working with the Graham Institute since last semester to plan the course. Though this is the first year this particular course is being offered, the College of Architecture has been taking students to China since 2004.
Architecture graduate student Nicholas Ho said he has worked with Ray in the past and plans to participate in the course this spring.
“This new model will change the world in some way,” Ho said. “… I think the most rewarding thing that I can get out of (the course) is the firsthand experience,” Ho said.