China Research

Elgert in China for new course of inspiration
June 04, 2014

After spending D-Term advising IQPs in London and a research trip to Guatemala this spring, Laureen Elgert, assistant professor of social science and policy studies, is preparing for her summer project. This one brings her to China. Elgert knows the wide-ranging impact the Chinese government, industry, and people have on the larger world, and this summer she will see that firsthand when she travels to China to research a new course that she will teach in D-Term 2015.


To develop and prepare the new course, “Economic Growth, Development, and Environmental Justice in China,” a senior environmental studies course, Elgert will spend three to four weeks immersing herself in the vast country to explore environmental policy and its impact on both rural and urban life.

Although she’s a seasoned traveler and an academic, the opportunity to gather research in a foreign land specifically to build a new course is a first for Elgert. The opportunity is one she doesn’t take lightly.

“This is giving me an opportunity to become knowledgeable in a firsthand way about things I am teaching,” says Elgert. And the time and effort Elgert puts in helps her teaching in several ways. “When you use your own research in teaching, it makes your students understand you have a life beyond the classroom,” she says. “They need to see that. It boosts your credibility with them.”

Elgert’s trip is sponsored by WPI’s China Hub project, which is devoted to continuing relationships with Chinese universities, businesses, residents, and government. Elgert says the new course supports WPI’s goal to include more China content in its offerings. In addition to developing supplemental content that includes lecture series and seminars, this full class is devoted to the broad impact of environmental policies in China.

“Part of the trip is for research and exploration,” says Elgert. “I will talk to people, take photographs, and talk about the issues. It’s an interesting place, particularly in how environmental policy isn’t neutral.”

Elgert is eager to explore how environmental policies in China impact different people with widely varying results. “The impact is uneven,” says Elgert, affecting those who live in rural areas in a different way than those who are urban dwellers.

This is giving me an opportunity to become knowledgeable in a firsthand way about things I am teaching

With so much emphasis on urban growth, she says, and the tremendous pace of growth in China, she is interested in finding out how policy changes the country’s physical landscape and the immediate and long-range details of residents’ lives. She plans to visit several areas, including the much-debated eco cities, and meet up with several contacts she has there to gain an educated understanding of how China’s urbanization happens and how it does so under an organized state.

As for the actual plan for the course, Elgert says it won’t be definite until after she completes her trip and has a chance to sort through all she has learned. After looking at several online courses about Chinese environmental policy, she is able to hone in on what’s essential for her students to learn and experience.

The travels are specifically to help with the new course development, but Elgert says all she learns will impact her other classes as well, ultimately weaving China content throughout her courses. She hopes to return with new material to write about.

Elgert looks forward to experiencing a place she has never been to but finds so fascinating on many levels. “I am just excited to see the art and architecture and the cities and how they have developed,” she says, noting that the food also holds great appeal.

Implementing more China content will only benefit WPI students, Elgert says. “It’s time. It’s so important and anyone who isn’t incorporating China content in a comprehensive way is missing out.”