Cheers Magazine, a publication of the Commonwealth Magazine Group, interviews President Zhang-Hua Fong for their Best Graduate Schools Guide

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The annual Best Graduate Schools Guide published by Cheers Magazine offers up-to-date and in-depth insights into local and foreign graduate schools. The guide also includes a survey regarding the types of graduates preferred by companies, which serves as a reference for younger readers in planning their career paths. Due to the outstanding performance of National Chung Cheng University (CCU) graduates this year, Cheers Magazine conducted an exclusive interview with CCU president Dr. Zhang-Hua Fong. The interview will give readers an in-depth understanding of CCU’s distinct advantages.

During the previous CCU commencement held last June, a group of students hung a protest banner from the auditorium’s balcony while President Fong was delivering his speech. They claimed that the school had failed to notify all teaching assistants of their pay cuts, and had also failed to handle disputes pertaining to school affairs in a proper manner. Some students raised their hands to express their support for the protest. Thankfully, the atmosphere of the protest was relatively peaceful even though the auditorium was packed with thousands of attendees.

When this incident was brought up, President Fong remained unruffled and responded with an approving smile. For President Fong, a protest is an appropriate means of exerting influence, as long as it is reasonable. As he put it, “We want our students to have the ability to judge and solve problems.”

From Taiwan’s low birth rate to labor disputes, the impacts of various social issues are extensive and profound. Therefore, enthusiastic and professional youths are needed to plan and identify solutions. From President Fong’s perspective, nurturing the next generation of students with decision-making capabilities is an urgent educational issue.

At CCU, student representatives are present at school, administrative, and regulatory affairs meetings. During the 2018 Taiwanese municipal elections, CCU students conducted their own election debate and invited the candidates for the Chiayi County Magistrate to express their opinions. Not only was the debate broadcast live, a Q&A session with the students was included as well, during which the students demanded that the candidates have more proposals related to youth policies.

In addition to the issues faced by youths, the students also expressed concerns regarding the lives of the elderly. This year, CCU joined hands with ELYSION Group from Nara, Japan to plan the establishment of the CCU Intergenerational Symbiotic Park for Intelligent Long-Term Health Care in Chiayi County. The experiences of Japan’s elderly care will allow for gerontology research to expand beyond academia and into practical applications.

Initiating independent thinking and putting knowledge into practice beyond the classroom

The seeds of independent thinking are being sown. At CCU, classrooms are no longer the only place for learning. University, social, and national issues all play a role in knowledge implementation. The spirit of civil disobedience found in the DNA of CCU students stems from their access to the university’s extensive humanistic resources.

According to President Fong, “30 years ago, sugarcane plantations were ubiquitous in Yunlin County and Chiayi County. The university was established as the government hoped to nurture humanism among the locals.” This year, as CCU marks its 30th anniversary, President Fong recalled the school’s establishment and said, “CCU was established on the foundation of postgraduate research. The students have an active and liberal attitude towards academic achievements.”

Back then, CCU solidified its position through its departments and graduate institutes, such as the Department and Graduate Institute of Chinese Literature and the Department and Graduate Institute of Social Welfare. As President Fong related, “Considering the fact that there was no university in Yunlin and Chiayi back in the day, CCU’s instructional structure emphasized humanistic and social thinking.” In response to the recent industry trends of artificial intelligence and Industry 4.0, CCU established its Advanced Institute of Manufacturing with High-Tech Innovations. This move reflects the university’s increased focus on science and engineering departments. Therefore, CCU’s new mantra can be summarized as “a university with a humanities heart and an engineering body.”

President Fong explains that the implications of the new mantra are to cultivate students to start out from the basis of humanities and take action through scientific methods. The students should be adept with both pen and sword, and should have the capabilities to uncover and solve problems. Therefore, CCU encourages its students to not only implement interdisciplinary learning as they develop their independent thinking, but also develop themselves in multiple aspects. For example, seek on-the-ground experiences in Taiwan and practice placemaking.

Realizing ideas and expressing dedication for traditional industries

At a local bamboo factory in Sikou Township, Chiayi County, the “Bamboo Logging” project is taking place in full swing

Back in the day, bamboo plaiting flourished in Sikou Township. The old craft has declined over the years and is facing challenges in its succession. In light of this issue, students and teachers from CCU have gone local and used technology to give bamboo products a new lease of life.

Due to the characteristic of bamboo as a fast-growing plant, the project aims to revitalize the various applications of bamboo products and reduce the utilization of plastic and wooden goods as an effort to promote environmental sustainability. The project has not only led to the formulation of bamboo vinegar for repelling mosquitoes indoors, but also contributed to the application of bamboo in poultry farming and aquaculture. For instance, placing bamboo powder underneath the rice bran eaten by turkeys not only removes odors, but also promotes faster turkey growth and reduces the need for antibiotic injections.

Bamboo products have experienced stable development. This August, CCU formally signed a cooperation agreement with the South Asia Bamboo Foundation (SABF) in India to open up an international market for Taiwan’s bamboo industry.

Against the backdrop of the government’s New Southbound Policy, this is one of the many measures taken by CCU as it actively expands its exchange programs.

In fact, earlier this year, CCU had joined hands with the Indian Institute of Technology Ropar and Chitkara University to establish the Indo-Taiwan Joint Research Center on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in India. Both sides will develop artificial intelligence technologies in the same laboratory. This initiative also reflects CCU’s determination to lay equal emphasis on humanities and science and engineering

Based on a spirit that combines the genial touch of humanities, the practicality of engineering, an affection towards anything local, and an international perspective, CCU aims to solve problems by taking steady steps throughout its process of research.

Towards the end of the interview, President Fong was asked to describe the postgraduate students of CCU in a sentence. With a smile on his face, he replied in local Taiwanese dialect: “Practical, resilient, and persistent.”