Responsibility. Hard work. Loyalty. These are the three tenets of a good life according to Zhejiang University Associate Professor Imran Haider Shamsi; a man who embodies the university’s motto: seeking truth, pursuing innovation.
Eighteen years at ZJU has helped to cultivate Shamsi’s talent, from undergraduate student to Ph.D. and Postdoc holder to becoming its first foreign faculty member of the Department of Agronomy, College of Agriculture and Biotechnology.
“I was made in ZJU by ZJU and for ZJU,” says Shamsi. “I know my Pakistani ancestors and my family and my beliefs; I never lose my identity. But I have also adopted the Chinese culture with a very open heart.”
Having embraced the opportunities offered to him as a student of ZJU, Shamsi is deeply passionate about his role as a teacher helping nurture future generations of ZJU students and he has amassed multiple awards, including the first place in the 2016 National University Young Teacher’s competition. He believes ZJU, as one of China’s leading research-intensive universities, is providing a pioneering environment for the creation and dissemination of knowledge.
Academic freedom is felt throughout ZJU and positively encourages the pursuit of interdisciplinary collaboration, the application of research to real-world problems, and the exploration of new ideas and concepts.
It is an approach that manifests in ZJU’s International Design Institute, as its deputy director Lingyun Sun explains: “We are good at inviting professors and students from other majors to join us. We think the most creative area is where science meets art, meets design, meets engineering — these four areas coming together can provide immense opportunities.
“Our ideas are concerned with how we can invent the future and ZJU is unique because of the environment, because of our joint institute with Alibaba (the Chinese e-commerce giant headquartered in Hangzhou) and because of the local manufacturing background. It is very interesting for us to have the opportunity to encourage students to transfer their ideas into the market.”
The latest exhibition of ZJU design students’ work included origami robots, an electric bicycle and a technology pillow that helps users enter a shallow sleep by simulating the ‘white noise’ of nature. Additionally, a lighting product that was on show is proving a huge commercial success.
Innovation is also evident in the teaching at ZJU and in 2018 one of its most creative and popular instructors, Weng Kai, was honoured with the Yongping Outstanding Teaching Contribution Award. Across the 14 courses per year he teaches, Weng’s classes are heavily attended, while he has also attracted 2 million registrations for his Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
“I’m kind of a ‘wild’ teacher in that I wasn’t trained in a normal way. I graduated, thought maybe I could be good at teaching and wanted to do it,” offers Weng modestly when asked about his teaching style. “Actually, Zhejiang University has a very good tradition in how it teaches students. I graduated here, and I have the experience of the teachers here. I even use in my classes some of the examples taught to me by my teachers, so it’s like an inheritance, a legacy.”
Weng has been at the frontline of teaching and education reform at ZJU for 23 years. He believes that the close relationship between teachers and students at ZJU is crucial to success. “The students here feel part of a big family, we are quite close.”
Emphasising that point, Ma Keyi, an undergraduate in Chu Kochen Honours College, which is attended by the top 5% of ZJU’s students, is eager to give examples of how she has been supported in her endeavours.
“The college provides us with a lot of resources,” she says, “I have opportunities to do research and publish papers. Meanwhile, I can do internships to gain experience and put theory into practice. If you have an idea and you want to implement it the college will help you, if you want to study abroad the college will fund it, if you want to do anything that is valuable or meaningful the college supports you and will provide the resources.
ZJU also has an impressive record of supporting its students to achieve success in global competitions. In 2018 the university claimed victories at the Tokyo International Choir Competition, the RoboCup and the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition.
The RoboCup – a humanoid version of football’s World Cup – was held in Montreal, Canada and offered the team from ZJU the chance to demonstrate their innovative ideas in a competition that is designed to promote robotics and Artificial Intelligence Research, as well as push advances in technologies.
Chen Zexi, a member of the victorious team, revealed it was a surprise success: “We won the small size league. It was amazing. We won in 2013 and 2014 but this year we did not think about being champions because we were trying out new innovations. I have to give credit to the university for the great support we get and the funding.”
ZJU’s stated aims include advancing civilization, serving and leading society, and promoting national prosperity, social development and human progress. Its policies are providing the platforms for its students and staff to excel, just as it did with Shamsi nearly two decades ago. Wherever a person comes from, and whatever their background is, ZJU is eager to guide their evolution.
“A foreign talent should never consider themselves as a foreigner,” Shamsi says, “Instead, consider yourself as part of the society where you are and then you can contribute. Take responsibility for life, yourself, your work, your family and your organisation. Never be afraid of hard work. Show loyalty towards family, tradition, country, and the organisation you work for.
“I will tell you a secret: Every morning when I arrive at work at ZJU, I tell myself that it was ZJU that gave me respect and honour, and with this belief I start my day. This is the love I have for this college.”