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Constructing connections

Updated: Sep 30, 2013 Print



Bruno Briseghella likes to build bridges-both physical ones and those between people.

The Italian engineer, who is the dean of the college of civil engineering in Fuzhou University in East China's Fujian province, plays a key role in the college's efforts toward internationalization.

Briseghella's connections with the college started in 2007, when he met its former dean, Chen Baochun, at a seminar in Venice.

Following some collaboration with the college in teaching and research, Briseghella became a visiting professor in 2011.

A year later, he joined the college full time under the central government's Recruitment Program of Global Experts.

"There are more opportunities in China to convert my research to reality compared with other places," Briseghella, 44, says. "China is developing so fast. I can feel the energy. It's like I came to the center of the world."

Briseghella says that, at the beginning, Fuzhou appeared like a tough place for him. The city's big size, population and crazy traffic was in sharp contrast to his hometown.

"There is a totally different relationship between people and the city here," he says, adding that his Chinese colleagues have given hima sense of home.

New measures

Growing up in Venice, Briseghella became interested in designing bridges as a child, especially under the influence of his father who did the same thing for a living.

Briseghella taught in Italy, including a stint at the University of Padova, before coming to China. He has designed bridges and other structures in other countries as well.

By 2012, he had designed 25 bridges in Italy, including a 414-meter-long bridge in Isola della Scala, which is one of the world's longest jointless bridges.

His achievements in the field of construction have won him a series of awards.

As a member of many international academic bodies, such as the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering, he has organized or participated in many conferences.

Briseghella's experience and global vision is valued by Fuzhou University. Aiming to enhance its teaching and research capacity as well as boost international exchanges, the university appointed him as dean of the college in July, setting a rare example.

"I really want to do my best and I want to do something for China. Enjoying a good life wasn't my purpose of coming here," he says, adding that he is aware of the high expectations that come with such a job.

He faces some practical challenges, including the language barrier, but he adapts quickly and is open to suggestions from colleagues.

"I'm the dean. But I am also a student and have lots to learn," Briseghella says.

"Sometimes problems may occur. But we solve them like those within a family."

Briseghella's predecessor, Chen, says cultural differences is an area where Briseghella's understanding will grow with time.

"He's adapting very well," Chen says. "He and the college have a solid mutual understanding."

Chen says Briseghella has brought significant changes to the college, not only in terms of new technology and teaching methods but also concepts, such as focus on sustainable development.

According to Briseghella, although the university is not located in a big city like Beijing or Shanghai, it can still enhance its international competitiveness in different ways, such as by doing more joint projects with foreign organizations.

"Internationalization doesn't simply mean more foreign faces. To innovate on research methods and learn advanced international management is most important," he says.

At his suggestion, a series of new measures are being adopted by the college. For example, it opened a marketing office, which has specialized functions such as helping faculty members apply for international cooperation projects.

He also invited professionals from Europe to train young Chinese researchers in presenting at international seminars.

He is head of the Sustainable and Innovative Bridge Engineering Research Center, a lab that is regarded as an important measure for the college's internationalization. The center not only does its own research but also introduces leading technologies from abroad. It has established joint research centers with international companies and universities.

The center now includes a number of researchers who have study or work experience overseas and also attracts exchange students from other countries.

Briseghella hopes it will serve as a platform for Chinese and international organizations seeking cooperation opportunities.

Pushing students

Briseghella has observed that China's technologies in bridge construction have improved fast, especially those related to building long bridges. But people in China seem to focus too much effort on ambitious projects, he jokes.

"Whether the project is big or not is not the most important (aspect). Innovation and quality are," says Briseghella, pointing out that in the future more attention should be paid to improve regular-size bridges, which are actually closely related to people's daily lives.

Briseghella's dedicated work won him the Friendship Award in 2013. The award is given to honor foreigners who have made significant contributions to China's economic and social development.

"I was surprised and honored," he says. "The award makes foreign experts like me really feel a part of China. It gives me lots of energy to work harder in the future."

Briseghella, whose contract lasts through 2019, says he hopes he can help the college realize its goals step by step.

Briseghella says he tries to maintain good relations with his students by having them participate in discussions and interactions.

"China is paying great attention to innovation nowadays. I hope I can do something with my students to push forward creativity," he says.

He is excited that his wife has decided to live with him in Fuzhou, with their two children.

He and his family have already toured many Chinese scenic attractions, such as the Great Wall in Beijing and the Terracotta Warriors museum in Northwest China's Xi'an city.

"It's important to have families together," says Briseghella, who is interested in China's history and culture and has started reading books about them.

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