Case Competition Proposes Ways to Improve U.S.-China Relations

February 17, 2023

Tensions between the U.S. and China seem to make the news every week, with issues as diverse as TikTok and tariffs to spy balloons and academic espionage. Undergraduates proposed ideas for ways to improve the countries’ relationship in the China Center’s third annual China Bridge Challenge.

Three teams, each including at least one student from Greater China and one student from the U.S., presented in the final round of the case competition. Their ideas addressed the theme of “Strategies for an Evolving U.S.-China Relationship: Business as a Force for Good” and included a mentorship program for international students, a hub for black soil research, and an experiential learning program focused on healthcare in the U.S. and China.

Creating meaningful mentorships

The winning team proposed a bilateral mentorship program with area professionals. University of Minnesota students from China would be paired with mentors from local companies, and UMN students spending a semester abroad in China would be paired with mentors from companies based in China.

Yanai Sun, a senior in the College of Science and Engineering, said many of her friends who are from other countries have had trouble finding a job in the U.S. Yanai has been able to connect with area professionals through her involvement in the Society of Women Engineers, but she said not many of her friends have had such opportunities.

“So while brainstorming, we thought maybe we’ll have a mentorship specifically helping international students find a job,” Sun said. “And mentorship is not just career finding. It could just be something that helps them connect with another person here.”

Yanai and her teammates, Alyssa Myers, Rawan Algahtani, and Junyan Tan, envision students meeting with their mentors at least four times per semester, whether just for casual conversation, job shadowing, or attending industry events.

“This program would have a positive impact on the China and U.S. relationship by fostering a mentorship and professional growth mindset on new generations,” Sun explained in the team’s presentation.

Addressing black soil erosion

Black soil, one of the most fertile soil types in the world, is key to agricultural productivity in both the U.S. and China, according to the second-place team. But black soil is eroding due to the extreme temperatures and wind caused by climate change. In some regions of China, erosion has caused food productivity yield to be less than half what it was 20 years ago.

“It is not just a problem in the near future,” Matthew Nguyen said in the team’s presentation. “It is a problem that is currently affecting both countries and it is a problem that will continue onward unless stopped.”

Nguyen and his teammates, Shaonan Wang and Skylar Zhang, believe an academic collaboration between the University of Minnesota and institutions such as the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, China Agricultural University, and Jilin University would drive innovation. 

Addressing black soil erosion would not only help prevent food shortages, it would also mitigate climate change. Black soil is 100 times more effective at retaining carbon than ordinary soil, meaning less carbon dioxide would end up in the atmosphere. 

The team believes the program would lead to additional partnerships.

“Both nations will expect more collaboration in the future to improve and grow together,” Zhang said.

People to people connections

“The enormous tension between the U.S. and China right now prevents a lot of dialogue,” said China Center Director Joan Brzezinski. “There are many global issues at play, but the students have been able to find clear pathways to working together with China to solve a specific problem.”

Sri Zaheer, dean of the Carlson School of Management, which partnered with the China Center on this year’s competition, highlighted the teams’ focus on connecting individuals from the two countries.

“It’s about learning from each other,” Zaheer said. “It’s really that at the end of the day, as people, we all believe in the same things. We want peace, we want prosperity, we want to help. These are things that matter to everyone.”

Watch the final presentations