Engaging with the World: NYU Shanghai Off-Campus Outreach

Dec 1 2023

An important aspect of NYU Shanghai is encouraging students and faculty to step beyond the campus. By engaging with local communities in Shanghai and across China, the University community can advance their research, connect, and exchange with the outside world. Here are some examples of outward engagement in the past semester. 

Empowering Environmental Advocacy 

Senior Lecturer Sarah Warfield leading the workshop

NYU Shanghai faculty often are asked to contribute their expertise to enrich the broader community. In mid-October, three faculty members were invited to Guangzhou to participate in a panel talk held at the US Consulate's American Center as part of an environmental advocacy series. Titled “Environmental Issues and Higher Education," the event shed light on pressing environmental issues, highlighting their connection with higher education, and engaged the audience in discussions on climate change, environmental history, and low-carbon living.  

Senior Lecturer of English for Academic Purposes Sarah Warfield created the workshop series with the support of a grant from the Fulbright-Hays Program. “This initiative allows me to collaborate closely with Chinese university students [who are] passionate about environmental issues,” said Warfield. “It's a unique opportunity to promote not only environmental activism, but also to encourage global citizenship as we address climate change issues beyond our respective local borders.”

During a panel discussion in the morning, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Li Yifei presented an insightful overview of China’s environmental issues, explaining the nuances of addressing environmental challenges in a rapidly evolving society. Clinical Assistant Professor of History Erica Mukherjee guided the participants through an understanding of the role of environmental historians and how their work can help shape environmental policies. Professor Warfield led an interactive workshop on low-carbon lifestyles to raise awareness how individuals can play a part in promoting sustainability.

Zhang Shuan, who works in sustainability and was among the 100 participants, said the workshop gave him a new perspective. “I have learned how individuals practice a low-carbon lifestyle and how government organizations and local communities can work together using comprehensive strategy.”

Warfield will hold three more monthly workshops in Guangzhou throughout January.

Heading out of Shanghai to Find Stories

Zheng Yawen ’24 talking to a fruit vendor in Shenyang

NYU Shanghai students often gain amazing opportunities to participate in projects outside of the gates of campus. In late October, eight students joined Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Paul Salopek for a three-day storytelling workshop organized by Community Engaged Learning (CEL) in the Northeastern city of Shenyang. Salopek, who is walking around the world for his decade-long Out of Eden Walk project in which he talks to locals he meets along the way and writes about climate change and mass migration, welcomed the students to walk alongside him as he journeyed through Northern China. During their travels, Salopek taught the students  the art of interviewing strangers on the street, and how to craft their multimedia storytelling skills. Students conducted interviews and wrote stories on people they met. Salopek gave feedback and coached them on storytelling techniques.

Zheng Yawen ’24 said she joined the workshop because she enjoys combining ethnography and journalism. Zheng, who has been using photography and videography to document locals and migrant workers in her hometown Chengdu and during her study-away experience in Abu Dhabi, said the workshop was an opportunity to learn from Salopek’s example. “I am most excited about following the footsteps of Salopek and seeing how ‘an introvert,’ as Salopek described himself, can manage to meet and connect with so many people from so many places,” she said.  

The event marked the closing of a three-year collaboration between Salopek and NYU Shanghai, as he concluded the China section of his walk. The student workshop participants will present their work at an event on Thursday, December 7.

Opening the Campus to Local Kids

Clinical Assistant Professor of Arts Gabriel Song with the visiting pupils

There’s much that NYU Shanghai can offer the local community as well. This semester, Community Engaged Learning (CEL) launched a volunteer project with NYU Shanghai students and Clinical Assistant Professor of Arts Gabriel Song. 18 students volunteered for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, which brought 16 children from migrant families to campus twice a month. The children had dinner in the cafeteria with NYU Shanghai students, explored campus together and attended choir practice under the guidance of Professor Song. CEL, which also runs a summer camp program for migrant children, started the program to expand the interactions between NYU Shanghai students and children in the local community. For Celia Foster ’24, interacting with the kids was a great way to practice Chinese and learn more about Chinese society. “Being able to communicate with my "little sister" bridges our differences in age and culture, and it has been very special,” she says. Parent Miao Jiyue, whose ten year old son participates in the program, says it’s had a big impact on him. “Before starting the program he was more shy, but I think the program has helped him feel more independent and outgoing,” she says. “The university students are from all over the world and he really likes hanging out with them on campus. Now he’s even starting to talk about his own dreams of going to university. He never talked that way before.”

Educating the Community

Professor Zhang Meng answering questions from audiences after the talk

On October 22, Clinical Assistant Professor for the English for Academic Purposes Zhang Meng stepped in front of an audience at the Pudong Library to give a talk through the “Reading and Life” Lecture Series of the Library. Zhang told stories of studying and teaching in the U.S. and China, and shared how she tries to innovate pedagogies when she teaches English to NYU Shanghai students, as well as the importance of imparting critical thinking skills in classrooms.

Lectures such as Zhang’s are an important part of the University’s tradition of giving back to the community, especially to Pudong New District, where the New Bund campus is located. The bi-monthly lecture series launched in 2016 has brought 22 faculty members from various academic areas to share their research and expertise on a wide range of topics, including how to make smart investment decisions, real-life applications of artificial intelligence. Shanghai architectural history, and enhancing the reliability of eyewitness identification in criminal cases.

By building connections to the local Shanghai community and beyond, NYU Shanghai looks to enrich students’ research lives and share faculty expertise with the world through various outreach projects. Stay tuned for more off-campus efforts in the future!