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Wanxiang Fellows Talk About Experience in China

Wanxiang Fellowships takes undergraduates to China to study clean technologies

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern undergraduate Ravi Patel shared a light note from his trip to China this summer as a Wanxiang Fellow: singing a song for a Beijing taxi driver who told him of his love for Bollywood movies.

He and other Wanxiang Fellows, eight of the nine undergraduate students from the inaugural class of fellows, were honored at a reception on campus Friday. They shared highlights and challenges of their six weeks in China this summer in fellowships that are focused on the development of clean energy technologies.

The Wanxiang Fellows Program in Green Technology and Environmental Sustainability was developed as part of President Obama’s “100,000 Strong Initiative” and is sponsored by China’s Wanxiang Group, which in addition to manufacturing solar panels is a leading maker of auto parts.  

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro called the Wanxiang Fellowships “the perfect marriage of environmental studies, green technologies, China and Northwestern.” He thanked Pin Ni, president of Wanxiang America, at the reception, for helping to make them possible.

In turn, Ni thanked the University and said he appreciated the students’ evaluation of the program. Their comments will make the Hangzhou program “even more challenging” while allowing Northwestern students to spend more time with Chinese student ambassadors from Wanxiang Polytechnic, he said.

“We underestimated the level of our participants,” said Ni. “Now we have to tell (our organizers) that these are not just college students, these are Northwestern students.”

At the reception, the students presented group research projects on energy storage, solar photovoltaics and hydropower that they did at Wanxiang Polytechnic. Maddy Low also referenced a conversation she had about microfinance with a local official from China’s poorest province, and Robert Liu talked about the challenge of getting a haircut in Beijing.

The fellowship program began in earnest in the spring at Northwestern, with an introductory class in comparative environmental and sustainability studies and a visit to Wanxiang America’s solar panel assembly facility in Rockford.

Over the summer, the fellows received a month of intensive Mandarin language instruction at Peking University in Beijing and also took a course in public health in China or China’s contemporary political economy. From Beijing, they traveled to Hangzhou in eastern China, where they participated in two weeks of intensive “green” research and study at Wanxiang Polytechnic.

At the reception, Wanxiang America President Ni recalled getting an unusual fortune cookie earlier in the week. “It said to focus on the color purple, that it will bring you luck,” he recounted. Perhaps it had something to do with his firm’s partnership with Northwestern and the good things that will come of it, he suggested.

Questions about the students’ research were posed by Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern director and McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science Professor David Dunand; Argonne National Laboratory technology development director and McCormick faculty member Mark Petri, who accompanied the students in Hangzhou; and Wanxiang America’s Ni.

Northwestern’s 2012 fellows are Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences undergraduates Yousuf Ahmad, Samuel Goldman, Helen Li and Jia Long Yu; McCormick undergraduates Jeremy Halpern, Robert Liu, Ravi Patel and Julia Savoie; and School of Communication undergraduate Maddy Low. Devora Grynspan is director of the University’s Office of International Program Development that oversees the fellowship program. 

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