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Interview with Prof. Cheng Chun, Outstanding Teaching Award Winner

Release date:2018-09-12

Editor's note:

Education is fundamental, and teachers are the foundation

On this occasion of the 34th Teachers’ Day in China, we launched the “Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) Excellent Teacher Series Report” to highlight the outstanding faculty and staff who have been working hard to develop SUSTech. They fully carry forward the spirit of creating a university that dares to try, is truthful and pragmatic, pursues reform and innovation, and chases excellence. Our faculty members and staff constantly write wonderful chapters in their lives and careers, precisely because they represent SUSTech. The hard work of SUSTech has made the development of SUSTech a new and rapid development.

When we arrived to meet with Prof. Cheng Chun, he was working with the members of the research team. They were discussing the progress of the project, examining the existing problems and Prof. Cheng was giving detailed guidance to each member of the research team. His advice varied from instructions on how to write part of a report to what a certain team member should do next. The research group had some foreign students, so Prof. Cheng Chun was switching effortlessly between Mandarin and English. His face showed the patience and meticulousness of a teacher, and the seriousness that came out from time to time reflected the rigor and wisdom of a scholar.

Prof. Cheng Chun is an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. In September, he won the 2018 Outstanding Teaching Award from SUSTech. Guangdong Province awarded him the title of “Outstanding Teacher of Guangdong” at the 2018 Teachers’ Day and Outstanding Teacher Recognition Conference. These two honors make Prof. Cheng Chun feel affirmed and encouraged at the same time. "It takes a long time to train and cultivate top-notch innovative talents. I have been on the road and will continue to travel along it."

Ideals and Reflections

On June 1, 2013, Cheng Chun realized his long-cherished wish to join SUSTech. He recalled: "I often came to Shenzhen as a Ph.D. student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. I have a special affection for this city. Her vitality, innovation and rapid development have made me want to come. When I heard that SUSTech was in the process of recruiting, I immediately submitted my resume. This is the only resume I posted when I graduated."

"Since the founding of the University, SUSTech has taken on the dual mission of establishing a modern university system and exploring the cultivation of top-notch innovative talents. This coincides with my educational ideals. When studying at Huazhong Normal University, the university motto was 'seeking truth and innovation, building virtue and cultivating people.’ This motto planted the ideals of education in my heart. The pragmatic spirit and innovative ideas of SUSTech are in line with my ideals. ”

Although the heart has belonged to SUSTech, it did not respond immediately. Cheng Chun went to the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for postdoctoral research. After his flight to the United States, he received the offer from SUSTech. He told himself that he would return to SUSTech to teach after completing his studies, so he could present his best self to SUSTech as well as his own educational ideals. Two years later, he joined SUSTech as an associate professor and became one of the eight professors in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

At the beginning of Cheng Chun’s admission, it was also the beginning of the founding of SUSTech. What is the top talent? Why should we cultivate top-notch innovative talents and how to cultivate them? He was full of enthusiasm and doubts. He has been thinking about this problem. He had some initial inspiration from his daily teaching. He had also done a lot of research and analysis and actively participated in the enrollment work of the school. He is at the top of the process of promoting the concept of SUSTech to candidates and parents. The concept of innovative talents gradually became clear in his mind and formed a seamless connection with the talent development goals of SUSTech. In order to cultivate top-notch innovative talents, it is necessary to cultivate the feeling of returning home, developing a global vision with comprehensive quality and innovation ability. All of these aspects were essential for attracting students, to become top talents for SUSTech.

Once the goal is clearly defined, it became central to Cheng Chun and is now consistent in his daily teaching and research practice center.

Practice and innovation

Innovative talents are those who are thought to be pioneering, creative, and able to make creative contributions to social development. They are urgently needed for current and future national development.

Cheng Chun combined his own experience of studying, by comparing the characteristics of innovative talents training from a variety of universities. He examined universities in mainland China, Hong Kong, and the United States. He believed that top talent cultivating universities in mainland China encourage undergraduates to participate in scientific research. They strive to provide students with the best resources when it comes to teaching, faculty members, and academic environment. In Hong Kong, university education is to cultivate "entrepreneurship," encourage students to start businesses and transform scientific research results into products. In the United States, "research-based learning" becomes the standard, with research methods and seminars being the most significant feature. These three models each have their own characteristics and can work together. They are found in SUSTech’s educational model, to form a modern university with an international perspective based on Chinese characteristics.

In his teaching, Cheng Chun believes that as long as we recognize the goal of cultivating national feelings, global vision, comprehensive quality, and innovative ability, it is possible to approach and explore top-notch innovative talents step by step. At present, Cheng Chun has 9 students as a residential tutor and five students as an academic tutor. He also opened the basic course of Crystallography from Materials Science to sophomore students. As part of the process of teaching students, he gets students actively involved, creating open-ended learning outcomes. Using the course content, he will combine research examples to provide the latest and most cutting-edge professional knowledge and scientific research outcomes, to show students what is being achieved in the field. His teaching methods see students conduct group discussions and studies, in order to have them working together, with their ideas clashing and creating new ideas. Cheng Chun also has students teach classes by giving presentations and special reports, to stimulate their creativity and imagination, all skills that would be used in a professional environment. Cheng Chun also employs an electronic classroom, so students can partake in virtual practice outside of class, which enhances students’ self-study ability.

“Learning is based on the discovery under the guidance of a tutor.” Cheng Chun believes that education should not instill knowledge but emphasize a student’s personal practice and initiative of students. Education needs to pay attention to the cultivation of students' innovative spirit and ability.

Under this kind of educational innovation and practice, Cheng Chun became the top tutor at Zhiren College. He is a teacher and friend welcomed and trusted by the students. He has cultivated his students to have outstanding performance in university as well as develop their moral and intellectual standing along with improved quality of his student’s scientific research. For the third consecutive year, he has produced the most of the Top Ten Outstanding Graduates. He also applied his ideas and practical experience for enrollment work and turned it into an opportunity to promote advanced educational ideas and concepts. Cheng Chun has not only made outstanding contributions to SUSTech’s enrollment work but also spread to the educational concepts of SUSTech.

Responsibility and Duty

As a mentor, Cheng Chun tailored a set of university plans for each student and gave them full guidance and suggestions for their future plans during the graduation season. Cheng Chun believes that life is very long and plays different roles at each stage, but the most crucial stage of learning and growth is the university period. SUSTech provides a wealth of learning and research resources for students. As a SUSTech student, we must cherish our time and our opportunities. We should absorb knowledge, broaden our horizons and accumulate experience as much as possible. He said that young people must take a long-term view, instead of focusing on trivial or mundane matters. Only by setting lofty ambitions and aspirations can students be motivated, develop further and truly master their skills. Students with ambitious goals are better able to contribute to society and be able to live up to what they have learned in order to become truly responsible people

The same is true for educating students, in order to lead their colleagues to complete scientific research. The research group of Cheng Chun combines study, research, and commercial application, in order to see how it serves society. They are currently studying perovskite solar cells, currently the most efficient solar cells that are commercially available today. There is an urgent need to develop these further to meet the urgent clean energy needs of the globe.

Cheng Chun said that clean and renewable energy seems to be the only way to achieve sustainable development in China. Solar energy is considered to be the ultimate solution for human energy use, due to its almost limitless and geographically unrestricted nature. Since their inception in 2009, perovskite solar cells have become the most popular third-generation solar cell materials. They combine the high conversion efficiency of the first generation of solar cells, the flexibility and thinning of the second generation of batteries, and the low cost of the third generation of batteries. The advantages of roll-to-roll printing preparation are the new generation of solar photovoltaic cell materials that are most likely to bring revolutionary development and technological breakthroughs to the entire solar cell industry.

In order to realize the industrialization of perovskite photovoltaic cells as early as possible, Cheng Chun's research group has comprehensively researched and developed perovskite solar cell systems, aiming to develop flexible, high-performance perovskite solar energy that can be “plug-in and paste-on.” A series of perovskite thin-film battery products, which enables everyone to install and use it anytime and anywhere, would realize the socialization of photovoltaic power generation applications. Cheng Chun revealed that a company specializing in the production of perovskite solar cells would be established at the end of the year and provides more opportunities for students to participate in the industrialization of scientific research results.

Under the concept of “promoting innovative talents” promoted by scientific research, more than ten students from Cheng Chun have published 14 SCI papers. They have also obtained several university research projects, such as the Innovative and Entrepreneurship Plan, Climbing Plan, and Makers Project Plan.

Cheng Chun said that the training of top-notch innovative talents requires the joint efforts of every staff member and student of SUSTech. Only when we work together toward the same goal can we turn our strength into a force and finally realize the educational ideals and goals of “building morality and cultivating people.”

Original Text: Liu Hui

Translated and Adapted: Chris Edwards

Proofread: Xia Yingying

Photo: Zhang Xiaoyan