Celebrating a 50-year bond with Taiwan

Purdue and Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) are celebrating a 50-year alliance that took engineering and science from the American Heartland to the other side of the world.

Following World War II, Taiwan changed from Japanese to Chinese control. The island was small and needed roads, cities, more schools, and industry in order to survive. It also needed up-to-date colleges to train its citizens to build and run the country. This is where Purdue came to play a seminal role through a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program that offered educational assistance to universities in the Asia-Pacific region. The program was designed to set up scholarships for the brightest of the bright, offer sustained assistance to universities during their fledgling stages, and promote their academic growth.

When the president of the island’s Tainan Provincial College of Engineering (now NCKU) was asked to choose an American university to work with his institution, he picked Purdue because of its engineering and science reputation and because of its graduates, who had returned to China to make significant contributions. Purdue chemical engineering professor R. Norris Shreve—for whom a building at NCKU was later named—and a team of 16 colleagues served as consultants with administrators and faculty; more than 30 NCKU professors, in turn, studied at Purdue. Enrollment at the university grew from 890 to 3,500 during the program.

The project, which ran from 1952 to 1963, also provided new buildings and research laboratories, introduced new teaching methods and courses, and modernized the entire campus.

“NCKU has endured a long journey to become an outstanding comprehensive research university. However, we did not get here purely on our own.” said NCKU President Michael M.C. Lai. “It was the combined efforts and selfless assistances of so many people throughout the years and the world, such as those from Purdue University, that have given us a shining place in the international academic community.”

The Purdue-Formosa Exhibit runs at NCKU through December and may travel to Purdue.