Security will be tight, and she doesn't have an invitation.

But Xiaowen Zhang is prepared to wait outside the Quad-City International Airport in Moline, or maybe even follow the motorcade to Muscatine - whatever it takes to catch a glimpse of China's vice president, Xi Jinping, during his visit next week.

A native of Beijing and assistant professor of political science at Augustana College in Rock Island, Zhang echoes what many other Quad-City area academics are saying: This is history in the making.

And she hopes some of her students will want to experience this with her.

"The vice president very likely will become the next Chinese president for the next 10 years," Zhang said. "He would be the top leader of China."

"The next 10 years will be a significant period for China, I think, as well for U.S.-China relations. So this visit, I believe, he is trying to reach out to Americans and sort of pave roads for his future Chinese-American policy."

Why should anyone here care about what's happening in China?

Because China is the second-largest economy in the world, and there are implications for this country as China continues its rise, Zhang said.

"Whether it will be a threat, or whether those countries can be potential friends," she said.

Xi's visit is meaningful because it highlights relationships between the people of both countries, and "the real positives about each other's cultures," said Norman Moline, professor and chair of the geography department at Augustana.

He has co-directed the college's foreign studies program in East Asia since it began in 1974, and was part of the visit in 1977 that was history-making in itself: Augustana was the first U.S. college allowed into China after it began to open its doors to foreigners that year, he said.

Moline has visited China 36 times, taking student groups oversees to help them develop an appreciation of that country and its culture, he said.

Each time, he has felt "a genuine interest in personal friendships" as he continued making connections in China, Moline added.

"That would be the parallel with Vice President Xi," he said. "I think it's a very nice story about a person who appreciated the warmth that was extended to him early in his career, and now, as kind of a favor to Muscatine and as a thank you, he's returning as a way of letting people here know that visit of 26 years ago, 27 years ago, was important to him."

"The people of Muscatine must have treated him so well," he added, "that he had such a good experience, that here in this very limited time, he wants to come back and say another round of thanks."

Every year, St. Ambrose University in Davenport chooses an academic theme, and plans a series of lectures and events about that topic. This year's theme is "China Project: The Awakening Dragon," which explores China's global impact on the economy, arts, religion and culture.

That focus goes along with a push to create new partnerships with universities in China, said Xiaowei Liu, assistant professor of finance, economics and decision science at St. Ambrose. He traveled in October with two other university leaders to China, building a cooperative program to bring students from China to St. Ambrose, and vice versa, he said.

"The first batch of students will come this fall," he said.

With the globalization of the economy, China is very important with its huge population and fast-growing economy of its own, Liu said.

"Many of the world's challenges are going to require working with China to solve them," said Ryan Dye, director of international education at St. Ambrose. "The Chinese economy is becoming increasingly important to the United States. Overall, it's becoming imperative for our students to learn about China."

The Chinese leader's visit is "perfect timing," Dye said, as the university prepares to host a business forum about China a week later.

Other schools also are using the visit as a way to bring China into the forefront of their classroom discussions.

While students studying Chinese language at Rivermont Collegiate in Bettendorf do not have a specific assignment related to Xi's visit, they regularly follow media coverage of China to learn about the country's impact on the world in many areas, including politics, economy, art, sports and the environment, spokeswoman Brittany Marietta said.

(Steven Martens contributed to this report.)