A new elite student program landed at HKUST this summer. Called RIPS for Research Industrial Projects, it is pioneered by UCLA's Institute of Pure and Applied Math (IPAM) which this year chose HKUST as its international partner. This program requires selected groups of students to solve knotty problems for industry and business, with skills they never thought they have.
The RIPS story has another interesting angle, in that things have come full circle for our President. Prof Tony Chan was the founding director of IPAM in 2000 when he was a dean at UCLA. How sweet that this year this project has landed in the university he now heads. RIPS was previously in Berlin and Beijing, coming to Hong Kong for the first time this year. Having secured a three-year US funding, this project is guaranteed to have a life of at least the same period at HKUST.
This project is made up of 4 teams, each with a quartet of students drawn equally from Hong Kong and the US. Of the 16 students, 8 are from elite US universities: Harvard, Michigan, UCLA, Harvey Mudd College, Wellesley, Columbia University, University of Maryland and Ohio University. IPAM picked these students from hundreds of applicants across the US. As for local students, all but one are from HKUST.
The idea behind RIPS is simple. Give students a real-world problem posed by industry, and have them solve it through mathematical applications in an interdisciplinary team under the guidance of an academic and industrial mentor. Students have to share their proposed solution in an oral presentation. With its international composition, you have a project that comes complete with team work, interdisciplinary and innovative research, plus communication skills—all objectives dear to the new 334 program. These problems are new to the students and new even to the academic mentors who, like their industrial counterparts, are amazed by creative problem-solving skills of the students.
This year RIPS projects for elite students are sponsored by three big elite industrial partners, Huawei, BGI, and MetLife. Huawei is a leading provider of global information and communications technology solutions which reach 140 countries and over a third of the world's population. MetLife is a recognized leader in protection planning, retirement and savings solutions with 90 million clients in over 50 countries. BGI, formerly known as Beijing Genomics Institute, is a widely-published leader in genomics. Each team is required to submit a report to its industrial mentor whose company may decide to take follow-up action on the proposed solution.
Prof Shiu-yuen Cheng, who is tag-teamed with Prof Tim Leung, is the project's overall coordinator. As a former UCLA faculty member and serving senior faculty member at HKUST, he can make things happen magically. Prof Cheng points out that summer research projects are the new trend in US higher education, igniting student interest in research and inducing many of them to go into graduate studies. Next year, he hopes to draw a wider spectrum of students from different disciplines and sister institutions.
A scholar known for his lateral thinking, Prof Cheng is already toying with the delicious idea of getting the Hong Kong police department on board as a sponsor, with students working alongside police officers to design a crime-prevention software that will make our safe streets even safer. Now, that's really taking students out of the ivory tower into the streets.