Identifying Solutions to Common Challenges

February 28, 2022

Students from the U.S. and China joined together to find solutions to challenges faced by the two countries in the China Center’s China Bridge Challenge.

Five teams, each of which included at least one international student from the Greater China region, presented in the final round of the case competition. The proposals included a new social network to connect U.S. and Chinese students, a cultural workshop highlighting the similarities between America’s Rust Belt and China’s Dongbei region, and a student-driven social media campaign using food to explore the different cultures.

Addressing misconceptions

The winning team proposed creating a U.S.-China Media, Language, and Society program. In the first year of the two-year program, a group of Chinese students would study abroad at the University of Minnesota. These students would be paired with UMN students to practice English and learn more about American culture. The next year, the UMN students would go to the Chinese university. Each group of visiting students would take classes in the local language, focusing on critical media studies, Chinese or English literature, and contemporary society. 

Including critical media studies is key, according to Katharine Strickland, a freshman in the Chinese Language Flagship program.

“A lot of the narratives and misconceptions we see today about each country come through media, so we really wanted to switch those ideas around, focusing on genuine connection and the common goals between the two countries,” Strickland said.

Her teammate Mara Weston, a strategic communications senior, agreed.

“There’s a lot of negative connotations about each country, and there’s just not a lot of context given to why things are the way they are,” Weston said. “It really leads to a limited understanding for most average everyday American and Chinese citizens.” 

Fighting climate change

The second-place team focused on the ever-growing problem of landfills and waste in the U.S. and China. Landfills are a major source of climate-warming methane emissions.

“China and the United States are the biggest gas emitters,” said Yuge Wan, a recent psychology graduate from China. “Any attempt to address the climate crisis will need to involve emission cuts from these two powerhouse nations.”

The team proposed a multifaceted approach to promote the idea of reduce, reuse, recycle. Their idea involves smart trash cans, which would recognize different types of waste and give people points for correctly disposing of waste. These points could be redeemed for coupons and discounts at local retailers.

They would also create a bilingual website called WeCycle, where users could play games, share recipe ideas to avoid food waste, and offer tips about how to reuse items. 

“Our goal is to reduce toxins in our shared environment and make a positive environmental impact, while engaging citizens from both China and the U.S.,” said Lily Qian, a senior majoring in human physiology.

A source of hope

“It gives me hope for the future that students were willing to take extra time out of their already super busy schedules to think about the engagement of the United States and China in such innovative and thoughtful ways,” said Molly Portz, assistant dean of the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance, who helped judge the case competition.

Meredith McQuaid, associate vice president and dean of international programs, agreed.

“The China Bridge Challenge is important to develop global competencies in students and provide the opportunity for greater understanding so that all of our students will graduate able to provide leadership in solving many of the challenges we face today,” McQuaid said.

John Coleman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, which served as a partner for this year’s China Bridge Challenge, pointed to the importance of empathy for the future leaders.

“This idea of exploring and trying to understand the world and the people around us as they see and experience it is at the core of a liberal arts education, and it runs through all of our disciplines,” Coleman said. “It is also at the heart of success in many parts of our lives, from the personal to the professional, and it is a driver for progress in societies around the world.”

Joan Brzezinski, director of the China Center, explained that the China Bridge Challenge started last year as a way to get students thinking about the challenges facing the U.S. and China in a time with many tensions between the countries. 

“These students will lead us into a new dimension of the U.S.-China relationship, driving innovative engagement and exchanges to provide a better life for the people of both countries,” Brzezinski said.