Worth the Wait: Reflections on the Inaugural SPICE China Day

Congratulations to the Stanford e-China student honorees 2020–2023.
Honorees of the Stanford e-China Program pose with alumni of the China Scholars Program and SPICE staff. Honorees of the Stanford e-China Program pose with alumni of the China Scholars Program and SPICE staff.

Stanford e-China is a collection of online programs that SPICE offers to students in China. On July 24, 2023 SPICE held a ceremony on Stanford campus to honor its top students. Carey Moncaster is the instructor of Stanford e-China.

After three years of teaching Stanford e-China students across the ocean and time zones via Zoom, it was surreal to actually meet some of my students from China in person on the Stanford campus. I knew it would be exciting to meet face-to-face under the July sun and palm trees—the students and their parents and guests, as well as their American colleagues living locally with whom the Chinese students had collaborated online, and also fellow SPICE instructors and faculty—all in one place at the same time. I was surprised, however, that the experience was exponentially greater than the sum of its parts.

Stanford e-China (SEC) was launched in 2019 just before the global pandemic. As countries closed borders and schools closed doors, students throughout China enrolled in Stanford e-China’s initial, online course, “Technologies Changing the World: Design Thinking into Action.” Offered from 2020 to 2023 during both fall and spring terms, Chinese high school and university students, Stanford professors, and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs all came together to engage in direct and candid discussions about green tech, health tech, fintech, and artificial intelligence. 

The top three students from each term, recognized for their academic excellence and effort, were invited to Stanford to participate in a summer ceremony in their honor. However, due to Covid travel restrictions, the first time students were able to participate in an inaugural SPICE China Day ceremony was not until this year. As a result, instead of just the top students from a single academic year coming to the Stanford campus, a larger, accumulated, multi-year cohort of Stanford e-China alumni had the unique chance to meet all together. 

In addition, a few of their American colleagues from SPICE’s China Scholars Program (CSP), an online course that teaches students in the United States about China’s modern history and current political, economic, and environmental issues, were also invited and recognized at the ceremony for their active and impressive engagement as CSP alumni. 

The Chinese SEC students and American CSP students immediately and warmly recognized each other as they entered the beautiful hall at Arrillaga Alumni Center, their faces familiar from virtual classes and work together on cross-program projects during their respective courses. “You’re so much taller in person than on Zoom!” CSP instructor Dr. Tanya Lee observed as she greeted the Chinese and American students. 

design thinking challenge

A design-thinking challenge was one of the day’s highlights, facilitated by SPICE instructor and design-thinking specialist Dr. Mariko Yoshihara Yang. Design thinking, a framework focused on human-centered design that comes to life through direct interaction with others, was a key component of the Chinese and American students’ past collaborations despite the limitations posed by virtual circumstances. The opportunity to interview each other face-to-face about ways to improve various social systems, and then build and present tangible prototypes of their solutions to their partners, was a heightened experience with striking results. The students all sat in a circle as they shared their designs, a dramatic contrast to their previous interactions on different sides of technological firewalls and in Zoom boxes.

After presenting their incredibly creative, colorful, and original prototypes to their partners and wider circle of students, as parents and instructors looked on, each student was asked to choose one word that represented their experience. Enlightening, creative, hands-on, intellectual, connection, exchange, potential, and hopeful were among the many words shared in conclusion.

The Chinese students were each awarded engraved plaques and invited to speak at the podium about their key memories and lessons from Stanford e-China. These young adults were poised and prepared, compassionate and creative, intellectual and idealistic. Knowing how hard they had worked to navigate the extremely competitive Chinese educational system simply to get to this point in their academic journey was amazing to consider on its own.

Dr. Gary Mukai, Director of SPICE, opened the program as he welcomed and thanked the students and their families for making the long journey to campus and shared the evolution of SPICE’s China-related programs stemming back to 1973. Also notably present was Liyi Ye, Shanghai-based SEC Advisor, Stanford Center for East Asian Studies alum, and invaluable partner in the development of Stanford e-China.

Following the luncheon and ceremony, we toured the Stanford campus. The sky was a brilliant turquoise above the distinctive golden architecture, Memorial Church, Hoover Tower, Rodin sculptures, sequoias and eucalyptus. Surrounded by the quad’s historic buildings, we touched upon the ironic history of Leland Stanford’s wealth built, in part, on the backs of Chinese immigrant railroad workers who weathered intense discrimination. Amid this stunning setting, there we stood, honoring young Chinese students and scholars as they envisioned new ways to solve wicked problems by engaging in cross-cultural collaborations and relationships.

While we had carefully planned the individual components of the day—focusing on SEC and CSP students, their family members, SPICE educators, design-thinking activities, Stanford venues, and facilitated discussions—I was struck by the way they all came together in a single shared experience. It is hard to find words that describe the organic intensity and inspiration that connected all the parts and both permeated and elevated the inaugural SPICE China Day. Borrowing from the students’ circle, perhaps the word that comes closest is hopeful. And I’ll add grateful for the chance to be a part of it, too.

Carey Moncaster, Mariko Yoshihara Yang, and Tanya Lee at SPICE China Day


Photo above: Carey Moncaster, Mariko Yoshihara Yang, and Tanya Lee at SPICE China Day

Attending Stanford e-China students include Yoyo Hsin Yu Chang, Robert Miles Chong, Jiayi Fan, Wanyi Gan, Jiayun Mo, Yuchen Shi, Tianyi Zhang, and Jihui Zhu. The China Scholars Program students include Sudipta Rout, Diego Scanlon, Makena Tom, and Thea Louise Dai. Additional SEC student honorees who were invited but not able to attend SPICE China Day include Nathan Chan, Fuzhi Li, Katherine Yan, Keyue Li, Juchen Shen, Mort Wang, Yudian Zhao, Jiaying Du, Yanyi Wu, Lingjun Dai, Chongxuan Yuan, and Hanru Du.

I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Sabrina Ishimatsu for her generous and expert help in organizing and implementing countless important logistics that made this event possible.

Stanford e-China and the China Scholars Program are two of SPICE’s comprehensive student programs. SPICE also offers online courses to U.S. high school students on Japan (Reischauer Scholars Program) and Korea (Sejong Korea Scholars Program), and online courses to Japanese high school students on the United States and U.S.–Japan relations (Stanford e-Japan) and on entrepreneurship (Stanford e-Entrepreneurship Japan).

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