MSU Beijing Alumni Club Global Service Project: Rural Women’s School of Beijing

Michigan State University recently began engaging the entire global MSU community in a “Global Service Day.” It is a great cause that gives Spartans an opportunity to collectively give back in one, big, global effort. On April 18, Spartans around the world will organize their alumni clubs to engage in service projects in their community. The website they’ve SWP_2015_GreenShieldput together is pretty cool; you can follow the activities of Spartans around the globe on #MSUServiceDay on Twitter.

Our alumni club in Beijing wanted to get involved in this great event, and began seeking opportunities where we could make an impact. One of the advisors for our club is a professor at Eastern Michigan University (we Michiganders in China stick together!), and she has been volunteering at this place called the Rural Women’s School of Beijing (officially known as the “Beijing Cultural Development Center for Rural Women”). I decided to look into it, and after visiting, I knew right away this was a great cause for us to get behind.

What is the Rural Women’s School of Beijing?

From the English website: “The Center is an NGO promoting the advancement and personal development of rural women. It includes the Practical Skills Training Center for Rural Women, the Migrant Women’s Club, Rural Women Magazine ‘s grassroots activities centers and projects for women’s development in rural communities. It is a non-profit organization with an integrated program that “supports the poor and empowers rural women by combining development projects, news media and information services, and dissemination of the outcome of our research.”

Looking deeper, I found that the original founder, Wu Qing, was a revered member of the Beijing

Principal Luo Discusses the School (click picture to link to the video)
Principal Luo Discusses the School (click picture to link to the video)

Municipal People’s Congress, and is even a Schwab Social Entrepreneurship Award winner.

The school is administered by Principal Luo Zhaohong, who has been serving the school for over a decade. In 2013, Caixin Online did a piece about the school and recorded a great video interview that really captures the principal’s  servant spirit and the impact this school has made over the years.

According to Principal Luo, the school operates on a budget of about 2.5 Million RMB (roughly $400,000), which comes mostly through private donations.

My Visit

The school is located wayyyy outside the 6th Ring road in Beijing. Quite a trek for those of us used to staying in the confines of the CBD or Sanlitun area. (Even though it can be rough sometimes, my advice is to get out of the central part of the city at least once a month anyways to remind yourself there is scenery in life other than pollution, bars, hotels and skyscrapers! Did you know there are mountains surrounding Beijing? :)).

Principal Luo and I
Principal Luo and I

When I met Principal Luo and her staff, I was immediately greeted with a spirit of warmth and gratitude. They were very gracious that I would have done something as simple as even paying a brief visit to the school! The principal walked me around the grounds for a tour, and spent a great deal of time showing me the pictures they’ve displayed of volunteers, both Chinese and foreign, that have given their time at the school over the years.

I learned that the school has served tens of thousands of women from across China, representing pretty much all of the ethnic minority groups that have clans in China. Normally, the women will come for 3 months at a time to receive training in different fields like school teaching, medicine, or leadership. The key objective is to help the women become more creative and resourceful, to be able to grow and impact their home communities.

Girls from Guizhou Training at the School
Girls from Guizhou Training at the School

I had the privilege of engaging some of the girls in the current cohort. These girls are all between the ages of 16 – 20 and come from poor, rural communities like Guizhou in southern China, and have come to receive training to be Kindergarten teachers back home.

I really learned a lot and built a connection, and felt strongly compelled to make this school the cause our club would contribute to for the MSU Global Service Day.

Service Activity: Secondhand Item and Monetary Donation Drive at Home Plate Sanlitun

To make a more lasting impact and to provide the school with resources it needs, we decided to extend the service project beyond the April 18th day to give people the opportunity to donate. This gives MSU and non-MSU alums in Beijing the chance to make an impact! Graciously, Home Plate Restaurant in Sanlitun, which also hosted many of the Spartan NCAA tournament game watches, volunteered to act as a depot for RURAL WOMEN'S CLUB DONATION DRIVEitem drop off and cash donations.

The drive began only a few weeks ago, and already we’ve gathered many items that will be useful for the school – printers, paper, pencils, crayons, and even kitchen appliances. The biggest items they need are a new fax machine and laptop computers to enhance their training activities.

The Drive has started to pick up momentum, and has been featured in The Beijinger magazine.

Join Us on April 18

The Donation Drive is going on from now until April 17th at Home Plate. On April 18th, we are gathering a group of volunteers to drive out to the school to deliver the monetary and secondhand item donations. As part of our visit, we will engage the students and staff in an arts and crafts and recreational activity to be announced.

Please DM me @Danredford or email me at if you would like to join us. This activity is open to Spartans and non-Spartans alike!

#Spartanswill #GoGreen #MSUGlobalService




My TV Debut – 助跑80后 - Chinese Education Television

A few months ago, I posted about my TV debut on a Chinese television show called “助跑80后“ (The Road after 1980)。The episode was filmed in July, but was finally aired on Chinese Education TV, an affiliate of Chinese Central Television (CCTV) on October 24th.

You can watch the full show here:

Skip to about 40:20 to see me spitting some Chinese 😉

My Debut on Chinese Television
My Debut on Chinese Television

During the show, we interviewed the special guest, Fang Fang, Vice President of JP Morgan Chase Asia. It was a great experience, and I learned alot about how many Chinese young people approach the job hunting process in China. Chinese young people, just like Americans, often struggle to find a suitable job that pays a decent wage after college. We face the same pressures, and would do well to learn from each other.


And once again, this was all made possible due to the MSU Network. The host of the show was introduced to me by her husband, Ray Wu, a good friend and graduate of MSU. Go Green!

Imported From China – An MSU Documentary

As it is every day, it is GREAT to be a SPARTAN.

I am so proud of my friend, colleague, and professor, Dr. Geri Zeldes of Michigan State University for producing and directing a great documentary about the experience of Chinese students at MSU, Imported from China. The documentary featured the journey of a few Chinese students at MSU, along with American students that reflect on their interactions with the influx of Chinese in our community. It premiered at MSU on September 17th, and will soon be distributed widely. I believe it will be a great tool for any university or school that is experiencing an influx of Chinese students and is looking to serve them better.

I am honored to have been interviewed and included in the documentary, along with some of my other respected and dear friends, including Jing Cui, Tom Watkins, Peter Briggs, and Joy Fu.

MSU is currently home to over 3,600 Chinese students. This puts our university at the heart and center of one of the world’s most dynamic and unfolding stories – the one between China and the U.S. As the documentary says, “Like it or Not, we are linked together.” At MSU, we are creating leaders of a generation that I believe will guide us through a prosperous and fulfilling modern U.S. – China relationship.


If you are interested in screening this video at your school or for your alumni club, please contact me and I can put you in touch with Geri.


Big Ten Fourth of July Weekend Bash 2013

One of the most unexpected joys of my time in Beijing actually has its roots in something closer to home than you’d think. While I am always of a mind that Spartans everywhere are changing the world, I am equally inspired by the work I see every day being done by Big Ten Alumni here in Beijing.

Since early in 2012, the Big Ten Alumni Clubs of Beijing has emerged as a dynamic group of individuals that are lighting this city on fire. As I mentioned in a previous post, til now we have hosted the 1st and 2nd annual Big Ten alumni Mixers, both bringing in alumni from around this city.

Big Ten Bash with Spartan alum Charles Eveslage (right) and Purdue Alum Sylvia Liu (middle)
Big Ten Bash with Spartan alum Charles Eveslage (right) and Purdue Alum Sylvia Liu (middle)

This year we tried something different: The Big Ten Fourth of July Weekend Bash in Ritan Park. It is always amazing to me the different kinds of people that you meet that come from so many different backgrounds that show up when hosting these types of things. We even had one MSU alum that took a flight in from the city of Changchun, which is is somewhat like going from Georgia to Michigan, just to be at our party! #Spartanswill

We also had an endorsement from the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Dr. Robert Wang, for the event. Dr. Wang received his PhD from Iowa so is a fellow Big Tenner! Check out the video here:

It was a great success, with over 200 alumni from around Beijing coming out to celebrate this great occasion, including members of most of the Big Ten schools. And to be honest, I was impressed especially by the turnout from the University of Wisconsin…looks like there is another dynamic club in the making.

We’ve made some great progress for the Big Ten Conference here in China and the MSU Beijing Alumni Club looks forward to collaborating on future events and initiatives.

My Chinese Television Debut – 助跑80后

One thing that impresses me about Beijing, despite its shortcomings and inconveniences (as I write this, the pollution level has surpassed 500 on the PMI 2.5 scale – read about it here in Bloomberg today), is that people are just generally interested in foreigners. After all, of the population of over 20 million in Beijing, only about 200,000 are foreigners, roughly 1%. For locals, its simply curiosity. For Chinese society, foreigners treading on China’s land is an essential part to China’s strategy to continue to expand and grow in the modern economy.


As a result, it has become common practice on Chinese Central Television (CCTV) to periodically feature foreigners as part of their programming.  Quite frankly, any foreigner worth his salt really has to be featured on a Chinese television show at some point during “the China experience.” Its a right of passage, a sign that one has stayed here long enough to almost be considered a “China – hand.”

For almost 2 years living and working in Beijing, the TV opportunity had escaped me. And then suddenly – it happened. Actually, it was the Spartan Network that finally delivered the opportunity to grace the bright lights and cameras of Chinese television. My friend and fellow MSU alum, Ray Wu, invited me to part of the show his wife, Cici, hosts on CCTV 7 农业节目电视台(Agriculture and Education Channel) this week, and needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.

The show is called “助跑80后” (english translation:The Road After 1980), and the program involves Cici inviting famous entrepreneurs or public figures that have had success in the “New China” since the economic opening up in the late 70s – early 80s.

The set of 助跑80后

My role was to be part of the hudongtuan, which essentially is a group of 3 to 4 people that sit on stage and engage the guest and the host in a meaningful dialogue.

I participated in two shows, and among other things, it turned out to be a great networking opportunity. The first show featured Zhang Cai Ming, CEO of China’s largest underwear and lingerie brand, Aimer. On the second, we spoke with the CEO of JP Morgan’s China Investment Banking Division, Fang Fang. In the latter, I was able to give a major shout out to the Michigan State University Beijing Alumni Club when discussing networking techniques in China, which I felt pretty great about :).

While the shows both went smoothly, as a foreigner, it is a bit of an exhausting and challenging experience. Quite obviously, everything is done in Chinese, from the pre-production planning meetings, to the backstage interviews, to the on stage dialogue. For anyone that understands how difficult it is to communicate in a foreign language, you know that it is more than just being able to have a conversation and use the vocabulary you know. One has to simultaneously demonstrate cogency in the Chinese language while following the flow and dialogue of the show. These are very much professional skills learned over years of training.

The "Hudongtuan" in Action!
The “Hudongtuan” in Action!

I think I held my own up there, but most of my comments remained short. I was, indeed, the “token white guy.” Honestly, that really was the point. I learned that, regardless of my ability to contribute substantially to the show, in the end it did not matter. It is just important to have foreigners periodically show up in Chinese domestic productions to demonstrate China’s efforts to reach outside its borders. It will be difficult for China’s culture and production to really expand out into the world. Most people do not speak Chinese, which makes it difficult to recruit foreigners like me to take part in production, or even watch their movies or television. But as genuine efforts like this continue to grow, and Americans grow the confidence to use their Chinese participate in these types of productions, these exchanges can lead to some extremely beneficial results for U.S. – China relations.

The show debuts in a few weeks. I will be sure to send you all the link when it goes up online! Another great example of the power of the Spartan Network!


Spartans Unite at Alumni Clubs of Beijing Ball 2013

Since the beginning of 2012, I began taking an active role in the “Alumni Clubs of Beijing”(ACB). This group is a consortium of clubs representing over 60 universities, mostly in the United States but also including a few in the U.K. and China, that are organized here in Beijing. The mission of the group is to: “Provide a platform to strengthen and offer resources for Beijing’s university alumni clubs, such as sharing best practices and enabling cooperation for larger scale events. Together we can tackle the challenges that no one individual club is equipped to handle on its own.”


As the President of the MSU Beijing Alumni Club, I am not only responsible for organizing and hosting events to bring together Spartans here in Beijing. I want to make sure that MSU’s presence and the “banner of Sparty” is heard and felt throughout Beijing and China. I became involved in “ACB” because I saw it as an opportunity for the MSU club and for the university to make itself known in Beijing among others that share their passion for their university.

2nd Annual Big Ten Mixer, April 15, 2013

Moreover, it is also an enormous resource I can share with our club members that are looking for a job, a project, or anything to “get their feet wet” here. Beijing is indeed one of the world’s most important cities; it is also one of the largest, and thus easy to get lost. ACB is a tool that can be used to really take advantage of “six degrees of separation” to move more efficiently.

I am proud to say that among the crowd of universities involved, MSU has really been recognized as one of the most active, successful clubs. We have now co-hosted a first and second annual “Big Ten Pre-Alumni Ball” Mixer, in 2012 and 2013, respectively, each year bringing around 200 folks out for networking and fun.

This year, MSU once again participated in ACB’s signature event, the  2nd annual “Alumni Clubs of Beijing Ball.” As you can see from the picture, MSU was well represented by a group of top notch Spartans. We sure do look good, eh?

MSU Spartans at the 2013 Alumni Clubs of Beijing Ball – Kerry Hotel, Beijing, China

As my friend, Scott Westerman, Director of the MSU Alumni Association always likes to say, there are Spartans everywhere. Here in Beijing, we are uncovering a gold mine.