Inaugural class of Wanxiang Ambassador Fellows presents research on China’s culture, economy and future

A pilot program to bring students from the College to China wrapped up its inaugural session with a symposium on Nov. 4. The students selected as Wanxiang Ambassador Fellows presented their research on the economy, culture and future of China to a group that included the main sponsor of the program, Pin Ni, president of the Wanxiang America Corporation.

“A good, healthy relationship between the U.S. and China comes from understanding each other, working with each other, and compromising with each other,” Ni told the students, adding that such cooperation takes work. “No matter how close we are, we’ll always have a differences of opinion as the two largest economies in the world,” he said.

The 30 students spent six weeks in China through the fellowship, administered by the Metcalf Internship Program and Career Advancement. They took culture and language classes in Hangzhou, apprenticed for an electric vehicle company, and worked with professionals in the sustainable energy industry.

Students also created their own research projects related to the trip and presented their findings during the symposium.

“It’s our hope that each of the Wanxiang Fellows gained powerful and personal insights about the economy, culture, and future of China, and augmented their formal education through this experience,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College.

The fellowship was created as part of President Barack Obama’s “100,000 Strong” initiative, an effort to boost the number and the diversity of American students studying in China and learning Mandarin. The students who were selected to participate in the six-week program also were part of the College’s Metcalf Internship Program, which provides substantive internship and professional development opportunities to undergraduates in locations around the world.

Bridget Pals, a fourth-year student in physics and economics from Wilmette, Ill., joined the program in the hopes of seeing how the green technology economy is developing in China. “We need alternative methods for power, and there are people in China who are approaching this problem on a huge scale,” she said.

For a research project related to the topic, Pals investigated biomass energy as a potential source of cleaner power in the United States. She looked at how the 39 million tons of excess crop residue generated in the United States every year could power millions of rural households. “This work is still preliminary, but working with green technology is something that I’d love to continue,” she said.

Caroline Bye, a second-year student studying public policy in the College, spent much of her time in China talking with factory workers who build electric cars. She wrote a sociological study on the themes she observed after asking them about their ambitions and their sense of happiness or fulfillment. “The people I met said that they were very content with living in China, and content with their jobs,” she said. Many said they had no interest in traveling outside of China, for example.

Bye said working on her project, titled “Social Themes in Daily and Business Life in China,” gave her a starting point for understating China’s international actions with more context of the people and culture.

“I hope more students study in China, because the people and the economy are a vital part of our global system,” she said.

Other student research projects focused on topics as diverse as the international electric vehicle market, Chinese investment in Africa, and how green technologies are adopted in democratic and autocratic states. They were printed on posters that were displayed around the Ida Noyes Cloister Club.

Ni visited each poster and talked with the students about their research and their impressions of the fellowship. He also asked the students for their feedback on how to make the program more meaningful and effective in the future.

“You’re welcome back to China any time, under any circumstances,” he said.