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Annual Class of Curve Wreckers of Precision Instrument at Tianjin University

In July, Tianjin University held a graduation ceremony for the 2017 undergraduates. Among many graduating classes, a class with 29 students was this year called the best “Class of Curve Wreckers”. 

This class has 29 graduates, of whom 14 students will receive further education after graduation at Columbia University, Duke University, The University of Michigan—Ann Arbor, Imperial College London and other world-known universities, while another 14 students will begin graduate studyin Tsinghua University, Tianjin University and other well-known domestic universities, including 13 students who will be admitted without test. The other one chose to go to work directly after graduation and has signed up with a technology company. Over the 4 years, over 70% of the class won prizes in various domestic and international extracurricular competitions in science and technology (such as MCM, iCAN, etc.), and more than 30% of the students served as chairmen of various societies in Tianjin University. 

When the students of this class entered university 4 years ago, their college entrance examination scores were not so outstanding, and more than 30% enjoyed the benefit of the policy of preferential independent recruitment. 

Th students from 2013 engineering experimental science class from the School of Precision Instrument and Opto-electronics Engineering had average scores in the first 3 years of 85.84, far higher than other classes. However, achieving high academic scores is not the most important thing for them. What matters more is that during their four-year study at the university, each of them is very clear about “who they want to be” in the future. 

What the class stresses is not high scores but “interest” 

The 29 students are the first beneficiaries of the reform of the engineering talent training model of Tianjin University. At the end of 2011, the School of Precision Instrument and Opto-electronics Engineering was listed as a pilot college for national education system reform. In September 2013, the first "engineering science experimental class" was officially put into operation. 

According to the original plan, the class focus on instrument science, optical engineering, biomedical engineering and other fields, thus cultivating top-notch talent “with interdisciplinary knowledge, global vision, and innovative ability who have a solid background of maths and science, as well as humanity attainments, and are good at detecting scientific problems within projects, and are able to solve engineering problems by using scientific method”. 

The experimental class is formed by multi-level selection, which not only takes “scores” into account, but also considers the students’ interest and potential in engineering science. The students of the class were from engineering science summer camps, independent recruitment, and freshmen who entered the School of Precision Instrument and Opto-electronics. 

Xu Mingzhi, the monitor, entered this class after he participated in an engineering science summer camp when he was in senior high school and performed extremely well among the students of the summer camp, even though his college entrance examination score was 2 points lower than the minimum for entry to Tianjin University. The boy who had been studying the computer since he was in Grade 3 and has participated in an international robots competition, just felt that he liked engineering since he was in high school. After four-years of study, he was clear about his future, that is, to enter the international scientific research consulting industry. He made his post-graduation application to Columbia University during his senior year and he will go there for further studies. 

Luo Rui, who also applied for entry to a well-known overseas university during her senior year, gave up the offer to study overseas. Instead, she chose to begin her doctor candidate life at Tsinghua University. Her four-year study experience not only gave Luo Rui the chance to see many famous scientists, but also helped her realize that “doing scientific research is a very interesting thing”. She also determined the direction of her scientific research in the future: MEMS (micro electro mechanical systems).  

“Distribution” brings great pressure yet makes the class the most dynamic 

The school has implemented an educational training plan oriented to engineering students, and in accordance with the talent training model of engineering science in advanced international universities. The plan included reform of the English-taught curriculum, engineering introductory courses and new teaching methods of basic courses. The school has adopted the “3+1” training program for the class. That is, study in school for 3 years and study abroad or practice in an enterprise for 1 year. In September of last year, among 2013 engineering classes, 20 students went to famous overseas universities including Columbia University, University of Toronto to set up their post-graduation plans, while 9 students went to well-known domestic enterprises for internships. 

Luo Rui said, students from this class needed to study many basic courses as well as some trans-disciplinary courses. “We took many classes with students from physics and mathematics departments.” Luo Rui said, students in the experimental class, instead of the traditional college English courses, study English communication and writing. The core courses are all taught in English. Classical Mechanics is an open course of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. History of Science and Technology, Logic and Critical Thinking Training, Chinese Communication and Writing, World Civilization and Cross-Cultural Communication and other general courses of engineering science are some of the “customized courses” made for their class, with teachers giving lectures from various schools all over the University. Most of the final exams are in the form of real problem solving, with a few traditional types. Xu Mingzhi said, "These kinds of exams keep me thinking about ‘why do we study’, ‘what we need to study’, ‘how to study well’, and issues like in which direction we are going to develop in the future." 

Apart from the individualized curriculum, students can also choose their graduation major from a range of options. 

The class adopts competitive distribution mechanism. Every year, according to students’ development and personal interests, excellent students from other majors can apply to enter the class and students unsuitable for such a training program will be distributed to other majors in this school. From the beginning, the class had 36 students, but only 29 students remained until graduation. 

However, this makes the class dynamic. “The most obvious evidence is the classroom atmosphere. We have the most frequent interactions with teachers. We may even ask the teacher to ‘repeat’ if we don't quite understand. Sometimes, the school will discuss with us what courses they are going to offer.” But after class, students in this class are accustomed to forming a few small groups, working hard ‘with each other’. 

The class also adopts the “tutorial system for the whole” model. Each student has an academic supervisor who will guide the student on his/her academic development. “My academic supervisor is Wu Bin from our school. We added each other’s Wechat and communicate at any time.” Luo Rui said that the guidance supervisors have given them is not only academic, but also provides lifetime benefits. During the training process, although students in this class have chosen different academic directions after graduation, they all have a clear view of their own goals and future plans. 

Zeng Zhoumo, the teacher in charge of this class and Dean of the School of Precision Instrument and Opto-electronics Engineering, suggested that the most successful aspect of this class is leading students to find and develop their true selves and show their distinctive “vigor" by being active and engaged.

By: Zhang Yumeng, Sun Xiaofang

Editors: Yin Shiyu, Ross Colquhoun