From Pittsburgh to China, one Punxsy native travels the globe for education
PITTSBURGH — Punxsy Phil is known world-wide as the famous weather-forecasting groundhog; however, there is another Punxsutawney native who is almost as well known — at least in China.
When he was growing up in Punxsy, little did Dr. Bill Barone, president of ChinaLinks Educational Consultants LLC in Pittsburgh, realize he would be spending time on a regular basis overseas in China.
Barone, who graduated from Punxsutawney High School in 1958, received a bachelor of science degree in secondary education in English and a master of arts degree in English from West Virginia University (WVU).
In 1972, he received a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) in secondary education.
Barone spent 44 years as a professor at Duquesne University. He began teaching there in September of 1966, and retired June 30, 2010.
Although Barone began his career in teaching, he spent his last 15 years in administration, first as department chair in the department of instruction and leadership in education, and the final 10 years in various administrative positions, including administrator for the entire Department of Education at Duquesne.
Barone said between himself and his brother Bob Barone, who still resides in Punxsutawney, they have about 90 years in education.
Bob Barone was best known as a principal at the former Mary A. Wilson Elementary School during the 1960s and 1970s.
Bill Barone said what he liked about administration was that it gave him the opportunity to be creative.
"In 1990, I began to internationalize our (Duquesne University) programs and provide our students the opportunity to study abroad," Barone said, adding that as department chairman, he was in a position to initiate programs that would permit such an endeavor.
Barone said the program first began in 1991, when Duquesne sent students to study in England.
He said the university then sent students to Ireland, and Italy and, in 1995-96, Barone began a program that sent students to China.
"That's how I became involved in China, because Duquesne had a partnership program with a university there," he said. "I began to take graduate students on short-term summer programs to China to study Chinese education, history and culture."
Barone said his first trip to China was in 1995, and this year, he will have traveled there for 17 years.
During that 16-year period, Barone made many close Chinese friends and colleagues at universities around the country, something he wanted to continue after his retirement.
"I started a private consulting company and continued working with Chinese universities on a private basis," he said. "My consulting firm provides training in the latest teaching methods and use of instructional technology for faculty at Chinese universities."
Barone has eight consultants working for him, and his company has a contract with Xian Eurasia University, a university in western China, to educate the faculty and staff about technology.
"It is about two hours by air from the capital, Beijing," he said.
Xian is a city of about eight million people and is the home of 13 Chinese dynasties and the Terra Cotta museum and warriors, he said.
Barone said in November, ChinaLinks Educational Consultants completed its first year of a five-year contract to provide training for the faculty at Xian.
Barone said he and other consultants who work with him travel to China three times a year to provide a 10-day training program.
"The Chinese are trying to modernize their programs and get away from having a teacher literally stand on a stage in the front of a room and preach to 150 kids," Barone said.
That modernization, he said, includes exploring more active ways to teach and how to use technology such as smart boards and laptop computers.
"This all began when I was at Duquesne, but now I'm out doing this on my own," Barone said. "I didn't want to give up all of the contacts I had made in China and sit at home and do nothing after retirement."
Barone said that this has now become a "good news/bad news" joke, "because now I'm busier than I wanted to be."
"It's not like commuting to Monroeville — we're talking about a 17 and-a-half hour trip from Pittsburgh," he said.
However, the time is worth it to Barone, who said the trips abroad were life- changing experiences for his students.
"They had a totally different perspective and outlook on the world following a trip," Barone said.
Barone said that English is the predominant language spoken in China, due to the difficulty of mastering Chinese, which has four different tongues.
"If you're going to beat the competition, you'd better understand them first," he said. "We began a lot of programs at Duquesne, and it turned out to be personally rewarding, as well as educationally rewarding, for our students and faculty.
"This is what I thought was so powerful, that our students were able to spend time first-hand with Chinese college students and professors, which dispelled a lot of myths," Barone said, adding that Chinese students are hard workers, particularly in math and science.
"If we want American kids to be competitive, we can't sit around and wait. Too many jobs are going away in this country," Barone said. “I want teachers to be aware of what the competition is in the world, and be concerned with how they prepare our children."