Students Address Sustainability in the U.S. and China

November 18, 2021

Can a social media competition help students in China and the U.S. relate to one another and promote sustainability? A team of four undergraduates thinks it can.

For their winning entry to the China Bridge Challenge case competition, the team proposed the CultureScape challenge, a weeklong virtual showcase to highlight how people in the U.S. and China are embracing sustainability.

“Cooperation between the U.S. and China on sustainability initiatives can create influences felt across the world,” Sikai Yang, a senior in the Carlson School of Management, explained in the team’s presentation.

Yang and his teammates, Yuechen Zhang, Caecie DeBlaere, and Rawan Algahtani, said the CultureScape competition would include students at the University of Minnesota as well as students at partner institutions in China. Students in each country could create and share content on a variety of different social media platforms. Because many U.S. platforms are not available in China, a website would collect all the submissions for anyone to view.

The idea was inspired by the so called “ping pong diplomacy” of the 1970s, when table tennis players would travel between the U.S. and China. The player exchange paved the way for President Richard Nixon to visit Beijing in 1972.

“This is another way to bridge the cultural clash that exists between the two nations right now,” Yang said. “We can do virtual diplomacy, since there’s no travel.”

The team received first place in the China Bridge Challenge for their proposal, winning $6,000.

“This experience has been one of the highlights of my undergraduate career,” Yang said. “Ultimately in college the goal is to develop a problem-solving framework that you can bring to your career. Doing the challenge was a way to see how the Carlson problem-solving framework can be applied to a real-world challenge, something that we face everyday.”

Preparing future leaders to tackle common challenges

The China Bridge Challenge was created to get students thinking about the challenges facing the U.S. and China in a time with many tensions between the countries. 

“While the development of an equitable, peaceful, and sustainable U.S.-China relationship remains crucial, a solution cannot be reached without sufficient mutual understanding and multifaceted bilateral cooperation,” said China Center Director Joan Brzezinski. 

The China Center partnered with the College of Design for the inaugural competition, asking students to identify a common challenge faced by the U.S. and China under the theme of Building Sustainable Cities and Communities.

The second-place prize of $4,000 went to a proposal for the University of Minnesota to collaborate with a university in China to create green spaces on each campus. Under the team’s plan, the universities would aid each other in planning, designing, and evaluating their green spaces. The green spaces would add to the natural environment on each campus and also serve as a place for students to destress and relax.

Other proposals aimed to increase awareness of plastic wasteimprove urban management in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, address soil contamination, and enable regenerative agriculture.

“Our contestants have delivered viable visions for making the world safer, healthier, and more equitable so that people everywhere can flourish,” said Carol Strohecker, dean of the College of Design.

Juanjuan Wu, an associate professor in the College of Design, helped identify a theme and finalize the details of the competition.

“I hope the students all learned a lot through this project and will continue their critical and creative thinking about how we can design effective and fair systems and sustainable environments to cultivate a better future together,” Wu said.