The ability to network with others is a necessary skill for any professional, but it is especially important in science and technology. Technological advances occur through innovation and collaboration and each nation's body of scientists provides a framework for sharing ideas. However, what happens when scientists leave their native lands to live and work elsewhere? Barriers resulting from language and cultural differences definitely makes finding one's footing difficult.
My answer to creating networking opportunities in another country is to develop your own group of contacts. The Chinese Association of Science and Technology (CAST) is one organization that arose to promote personal and professional development among Chinese scientists, architects, and engineers living in the United States. CAST also serves as a bridge for the collaboration between China and the U.S. in economic issues, trade, personnel, science and technology, and other areas.
I am vice president of the Washington, D.C., chapter  of CAST (CAST-DC) and will shed light on this community of professionals by detailing my personal journey and how I became involved with the organization, its mission, and its accomplishments.
The Chinese Association of Science and Technology
CAST was founded in August 1992 in New York City and registered in New York State as a nonpolitical and nonprofit professional organization. The majority of CAST members hold advanced degrees in science and technology, education, business, law, medicine, art, and other fields of endeavor.
CAST membership is growing rapidly with members in more than 30 states across the United States. CAST members work in academia, industry, government, and other sectors. Because of our hard work, it is now one of the most-recognized organizations among Chinese professionals in the country. It helps promote understanding between Americans and ethnic Chinese in the U.S.
The Ripple Effect
I was born in Hubei Province in central China. I received my bachelor's degree in architecture, and then earned a master's degree in building science. After graduation, I became an assistant professor in Tsinghua University in Beijing. Three years later, I went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to pursue a doctoral degree in the school of architecture. My research area was building performance and diagnostics, including energy simulation and modeling, smart buildings and indoor air quality, and energy efficient building technologies.
During my first 3 years at Carnegie Mellon, my program did not have another Chinese graduate student. Although I missed being around other Chinese people, it afforded me a great opportunity to participate in an international research project between the U.S. and China in 2000. The project, initiated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and China's Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST), resulted in the China Energy Efficient Building Demonstration Project in Beijing in 2004. Throughout the project, I realized that there was a great mutual interest between the two countries in topics like energy-saving building technologies and sustainable land development. In early 2004, the building was completed, and DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham went to Beijing for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
This first successful project resulted in a ripple effect. I became very interested in building research collaborations with my homeland and sought every opportunity to foster this relationship. When I found out that the mayor of a major Chinese city was coming to visit Pittsburgh, I joined the Pittsburgh chapter of CAST so I could welcome the Chinese delegation and meet him in person.
Students Can Make a Difference
I took the initiative and introduced the China Energy Efficient Building Project to the Chinese visitors, which led to another research project. This fortunate occurrence showed that Chinese students could play an important role in international research while gaining a lot of experience. My classmates also started to take notice of my initiative and as a result, elected me as their graduate student representative to the departmental Ph.D. academic committee. I took my committee duties seriously and used my position to help foster more diversity within my department by recommending several excellent Chinese student applicants. When these students arrived and were successful, departmental professors started paying attention to students from China. By the time I graduated from the program in 2002, about 10 Chinese graduate students were enrolled.
After graduation, I moved to Maryland and became the first Chinese employee of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Research Center. I introduced and led a pilot research project, entitled The China Building Practices Survey, which surveyed China's housing market. It was the first research of its kind to provide first-hand, independent market-trend data to American building material manufacturers and home product suppliers. This particular demographic is an important population because they promote business opportunities for the American housing industry in China's market.
I also transferred my CAST membership from the Pittsburgh chapter to the D.C. chapter, and 2 years later, I became vice president.
CAST in the Nation's Capital
Since the founding of the CAST-DC chapter in November 1992, we have hosted annual conferences and held public seminars on topics such as professional career development, personal financial management, and new IT technologies and trends. This year we also accommodated a lot of Chinese delegations from universities and research institutions.
CAST-DC is committed to helping facilitate international research, and our "2004 U.S.-China Conference on Business and Technology" is a good example of our efforts. The conference, held 6 to 7 February 2004 at the Sheraton Reston Hotel in Reston, Virginia, was intended to address the opportunities and challenges associated with the dynamic changes in economic globalization affecting both the U.S. and China. CAST-DC invited officials from the U.S. federal government agencies and the state governments of Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, as well as from the Chinese Embassy and Chinese central and provincial governments, to share their insights and wisdom on policy issues related to economic and technological advances.
It was our fourth annual conference and was open to both professionals and college students, especially senior undergraduates. The meeting provided an opportunity for students to interact with professionals in their fields and enhance their understanding of career development.
Working for the Future
Each year, thousands of Chinese students come to the U.S. to pursue advanced degrees. In the greater D.C. area, there are many prestigious universities that enroll these students, such as John Hopkins University, Georgetown University, the University of Maryland, George Washington University, etc. In addition to our other activities, members refer graduates for employment at local companies. Furthermore, each summer we organize a BBQ party for college students and invite local CEOs to help college graduates with resumes, interviewing, and job-hunting skills.
CAST-DC and other chapters of CAST remain committed to helping these young people become the movers and shakers of tomorrow. They will contribute to maintaining the special collaborative relationship between America and China.
Kevin Mo is a research engineer and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .