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  • [August 16, 2012]

    Serving a community in rural China

  • Two countries, three projects, four weeks.

    From July 4 to August 2, 15 undergraduate students from Stanford University, Peking University (PKU) and Tsinghua University worked on design projects in Liu Jia Zheng, a rural district in Mianyang City, Sichuan, China, to improve on the life of the local people. Divided into three teams, they had to complete the design projects based on their understanding of the locals’ needs and culture. The process was a key component of the Globex course “Cross Cultural Design for Services”.

    The Globex Summer Program is a highly-innovative 6-week event organized by PKU College of Engineering and it involves US faculty from Stanford and the Universities of Delaware and Maryland. Each of these universities provided one or more faculty to the PKU Globex Program to teach engineering students from US, Chile, Japan and Chinese students from PKU, Tsinghua and Hong Kong.

    The innovative Stanford class was taught in a cross-cultural environment comprising of 3 teams populated with students from Stanford, PKU and Tsinghua. This cross-cultural arrangement was most helpful as it helped the teams communicate with local villagers, who could only understand Chinese. In the closing ceremony held on August 2, the three Globex teams presented their projects to local government officials, local school teachers and the course instructors. The project secretary commented that it has been a huge success and the students learned tremendously from this once- in-a-lifetime experience.

    Project 1: Grape Growing
    Mao Shui Si is a village in rural Mianyang that is home to 400 families who earn their living through farming. Each family has 4-5 acres of land where they grow sweet potato, corn and rice. However, during the many team’s interviews with villagers, they found that this place faces a problem that is common with many rural places in China - that farming as an economic activity does not generate sufficient income for the rural folks, and therefore, most of the young people migrate to big cities to earn money. This leaves the grandparents as the sole workforce for the farmlands, on top of their other equally demanding task of taking care of their grandchildren. However, growing corn, rice and sweet potatoes is very labor-intense and difficult for the elderly, and generates a meager income of 1600 dollars per year.

    The team decided to help the villagers solve this problem. They found that grapes as a crop can generate more income and is much less labor-intensive. In addition, growing grapes proved to be successful for the family of the village leaders and other neighboring villages. Despite these benefits, many farmers are not willing to grow grapes because of their unfamiliarity with the process and the high capital costs.

    To help the farmers overcome these obstacles, the team formed partnership with local agricultural professors and university student volunteers in order to provide villagers with such expertise and technology. The Mao Shui Si village leader is committed to this cause and agreed to provide initial grape seeds and agricultural expertise. The team has also secured sales channel, making the salesmen agree to come to Mao Shui Si to collect grapes during the harvesting season. In addition, the team also released video advertisement for donation on Chinese website Youku. With these efforts, five Mao Shui Si families have decided to start grape growth from November this year.

    Project 2: Growing Up Happily
    Liu Jia Zheng Middle School is home to hundreds of high school teachers and students. With newly-built campus and spacious classrooms and laboratories, it provides students with good facilities. The students are keen to study and many possess talents and special gifts. Still, through interviews with teachers, students and the school master, the team found the following problems.

    Firstly, many of the students would like to engage in more communication and exchange of ideas with their teachers. Secondly, most of the students lack clear goal and planning. Thirdly, some students feel frustrated with their exam scores despite their hard work. Fourthly, due to the large class size, not all students have the chance to be fully involved with and receive guidance in their laboratory experiments. Although the teachers are aware of these problems and would like to solve them, they have not figured out on how to do so.

    To help tackle these problems, the Globex team held brainstorming sessions and proposed many solutions. Finally, after many tests and improvisations, six methods were approved by the school authority. They were 1) dream wall - encouraging students to draw their dreams on the wall, 2) experiments card - giving students guidelines for simple experiments to take home to learn, 3) short-term goals listing - asking students to list their short-term goals in writing, 4) mailbox – to facilitate communications between students and teachers, 5) growth chart - in which teachers place “stars” to reward students' performance and progress in every subjects, and 6) team competition - in which each team comprising 4-5 students try to attain as many stars as possible with the eventual goal of winning prizes.
    Project 3: Mentors for the “Left-Behind” Children
    The 3rd Globex team looked into the special needs of the “left-behind” children in Liu Jia Zheng Primary School. These “left-behind” children are students whose parents work in cities and they don’t get to see their parents except once or twice a year. So, they are brought up largely by their grandparents and other relatives. To reach out to these students, the Globex team conducted many interviews with school teachers and students’ grandparents and they found that the “left-behind” pupils need extra attention and care. Despite  being spoiled by their grandparents, these children feel lonely inside and have little motivation to study.

    To address these problems, the team came up with a painting course, with the aim to help them express their thoughts and feelings. A website was developed for them to upload their paintings for their parents located in cities to view them. Further, to enrich their lives and provide day-to-day support, the team successfully recruited nearly 100 university student mentors from PKU, Tsinghua and the local Southwest University of Science and Technology. The mentors will communicate with each of the pupils on a one-to-one basis to help the “left-behind” students broaden their views and trigger their interest in study.


    About the 2012 Globex Summer Program
    The 2012 Globex Summer Program is organized by the PKU College of Engineering under the guidance of Assistant Dean Pingchou Han and his assistant, Ning Liu. The program spans from June 25 to August 24 and it features 6 engineering courses delivered in English by faculty from world-class universities and they include Stanford University, Peking University, University of Delaware and University of Maryland. Participants are engineering students from nine universities - Peking University, Tsinghua University, University of Delaware, Stanford University, University of Maryland, Yokohama National University, Chinese University of Hong Kong and CONICYT (involving 4 Chilean Universities). For more information, you can contact Professor Han at