Sharing our 'aqua' culture


Auburn University and Ocean University of China representatives sign the Memorandum of Understanding between the two universities that establishes their academic exchange for the next five years. Seated (L to R) are Dr. Shuanglin Dong, vice president of Ocean University of China, and Dr. Joe Pittman, interim dean of the AU Graduate School. Standing (L to R) are Dr. John Liu, associate dean of the AU College of Agriculture; Dr. Qi Li, head of the department of aquaculture at Ocean University of China; Dr. David Rouse, head of the fi sheries department at AU; and Dr. George Flowers, interim dean of the AU Graduate School.

Chinese university chooses AU to train China’s future fisheries scientists

    Auburn University has the best collegiate fisheries program in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent assessment. It boasts the largest study and research facilities and hosts an exceptional number of doctoral students, with about 35 currently. This is probably more fisheries PhD candidates than at any other school, and even that number will double over the next few years, according to David Rouse, AU fisheries department head.
    You see, not only is Auburn’s fisheries department the best in the nation, aquaculture scientists in China believe it’s the top program in the world.

    That’s why Ocean University of China is sending 10 doctoral students a year over the next five years to study in AU’s College of Agriculture, namely in the fisheries department. It’s part of the Chinese government’s plan to create a workforce of at least 5,000 people who’ve studied at the 100 best colleges in a certain discipline in the world, according to AU President Jay Gogue.
    “We’ve always been told that we do have an outstanding program… this just confi rmed what others had been telling us,” said David Rouse, AU fisheries department head.
   The Chinese government fi rst picked the 100 top programs in their country, with Ocean University selected as having the No. 1 fisheries program in China. Those schools then contacted programs in other countries that school administrators and professors deemed the best in the world.
    That means Ocean University selected Auburn as having the top fisheries department, and other Chinese colleges picked prestigious counterparts in medicine, English and biology programs, for example.
    China has so much confidence in Auburn that Ocean University representatives even corrected Gogue during a recent visit to the Plains to discuss their plan, the AU president said.
    “During the meeting, I said ‘You know Auburn does have the No. 1 fisheries program in the country,’ and they quickly came back and said ‘No, no, no…No. 1 in the world,’” Gogue said.
    Rouse said his department was first contacted by the Chinese university about the grand plan last June. He and other fi sheries representatives then visited China in August to further discuss the plan, and agreements were signed in Auburn in December.
    “(Ocean University) asked sources from around the world which school had the best fisheries program…and they chose us,” he explained.
    The first round of PhD candidates involved in the program will begin studying at Auburn this fall. Each student will be on a scholarship funded by the Chinese federal government, and the selection process for those students has been competitive, Rouse said.
    Ocean University already interviewed about 50 candidates and narrowed it down to 14.
    “They have received applications from the very best students from all over China that want to study here,” Rouse said.
    Auburn will help pick the students; in fact, two AU representatives left for China today to help determine the fi nal 10.
    So why does China need to partner with the “best fisheries program in the world?” They can’t afford not to, according to Rouse.
    “China realizes they have a huge problem with having enough food to go around, and with the strain and stress on their environment,” he said. “They need to train some scientists who can help them get their food production and environmental quality under control.”
    The country recognizes the serious problem, and it has the funding but not the knowledge to tackle it, Rouse said “(Ocean University) had some of the newest and best equipment in the world, some of it still sitting in boxes,” he continued. “They just need someone to tell them how to use it.”
    While China is advanced in many ways, it needs to learn more scientific techniques to harvest fish, Rouse said.
    “Much of our fisheries program has been built around helping other countries become more self-sufficient,” he added.
    Auburn will benefit from the five-year partnership as well, Rouse said. As international students have done in the past, these Chinese students will gain the knowledge to research and potentially find solutions to U.S. agricultural problems.
    “A lot of our catfish industry has been built on research that was done by international students who studied here,” Rouse said.
    AU faculty members will also have the opportunity to visit China and see what they can learn from the highest-populated country in the world, he continued.
    And of course, the program will increase the visibility of Auburn University, Gogue said.
    “When they reveal that list of 100 schools that were picked to be involved, it will be well known world wide, and for Auburn to be on that list is important to us,” Gogue said. “This is a total external verification of quality.”
    Decades of tireless service by the fisheries department faculty has helped make the program renowned, the AU president said.
    As one of the few freestanding fisheries departments— most are combined with other natural resource studies, like forestry—Auburn’s program has always been involved in large-scale projects, Rouse said. It began in the 1930s during the Depression, when a group of university professors who loved sport fishing began to take their hobby more seriously.
    Their interest grew into a nationally known program in sport fish management, and the thousands of bass and bream sport-fishing ponds that exist today were built using technology developed by AU in the ’50s and’60s, Rouse said.
    “From that, they looked at other ways to produce more fish to feed people, and that got us into the international arena,” he continued. “The U.S Department of Agriculture State, Agency for International Development (USAID) designated us as an international center for aquaculture in the early ’70s…so we’ve always worked on large programs and worked overseas.”
    AU fisheries’ facilities are the largest in the country, and probably in the world, Rouse added. They include about 1,600 acres in north Auburn and about 300 ponds used for research and teaching.
    The department also has facilities in catfish-laden west Alabama and on Dauphin Island in Gulf Shores, where Auburn conducts marine work.
    Despite the program’s strong assets, hosting at least 10 more PhD students each year until 2013 will be a challenge for AU fisheries’ faculty, Rouse said. To take some strain off , some of the Chinese students will study in closely related fields like agricultural economics and poultry science, Rouse said.
    “There are not many programs that can handle even 20, 30 PhD students at once,” he said. “Doubling our doctoral students to 50 to 60 over the next three years will stretch us a little bit.”

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