Laspa Center for Leadership: Yijia Yang ’18: Creating Volunteer Programs for Students in China

CLAREMONT, California - March 27, 2017

This past summer, Yijia Yang ’18 returned to her alma mater, Chengdu No. 7 High School in Sichuan Province, China, to create volunteer programs to help relieve the intense academic pressure that high school students often feel. Yang, who is from Chengdu, believes service work is a “largely neglected part of Chinese high school education.” Volunteering provides students with opportunities to relax, escape the academic bubble, and “more importantly is an opportunity to learn about the real world, a way to transfer knowledge into use and cultivate the sense of social responsibility,” Yang says. The mathematical economics and politics major built a database for Chengdu No. 7 to connect current students with alumni with leads on internship and volunteer opportunities. She also organized student participation in a donation program for a less-developed school in rural China.

Yang’s first volunteer experience, with the Harvard Summer School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after her second year of high school, inspired her passion for promoting student community service work. Through the Harvard program, Yang read to, talked with, and as participated in activities with senior citizens in hospitals. “I felt the joy of helping others, and I enjoyed this way of getting involved with the community surrounding me,” Yang says. “But I know not everyone has the opportunity or is familiar with doing volunteer work.”

To create the volunteer opportunity database for Chengdu No. 7, Yang gathered contact and employment information from Chengdu No. 7 alumni, creating a list of professional and organizational connections for students who want to explore community service or internship opportunities.

“There’s an alumni culture at U.S. colleges, but the high school I went to doesn’t have this network [for students to get opportunities] to learn from alumni,” Yang says. “I wanted to help the high school establish a database like Scripps Connect, which enables current Scripps students to learn about job and internship opportunities from alumnae.”

While working on this project, Yang learned Chengdu No. 7 staff and teachers planned to donate books and electronic teaching tools, such as computers, projectors, and Internet equipment, to a primary school in the rural Guixiang Village, Luzhou City, Sichuan Province, which is about 250 miles from Chengdu. According to Yang, Guixiang Village has only five full-time teachers who instruct all primary school classes from years one through six, and they never used online resources in their lessons prior to Chengdu’s donation. The village’s average annual per capita income in this village is about $800. Initially, students were not going to participate in the project, but Yang saw it as an opportunity to get the teenagers involved in volunteer work that would increase the longevity of the donation’s impact.

Yang and Chengdu No. 7 organizers began by discussing how they could build a relationship with the rural primary school and involve students in volunteer activities there. They decided to establish a scholarship for primary school students in Guixiang Village. Yang combined her Laspa We Act grant from Scripps with donations from Chengdu No. 7 High School and one of China’s largest educational book publishing companies. A Chengdu No. 7 student’s mother, who is a publisher at the company, made the latter contribution possible. These funds added up to create a $60,000 scholarship that “provides tuition and some extra spending money for students whose families are not able to afford the expenses to keep them in school,” Yang says. In addition to the financial gift, the publishing company also donated approximately 3,000 books, which allowed the primary school in Guixiang Village to build its first public library.

In mid-August, Yang helped led a group of five students from Chengdu No. 7 on a weeklong trip to Guixiang Village, where they met with around 30 local families, including those with students between six and 12 years old who attend the primary school and older students who had left to go to high schools in bigger cities. Yang’s volunteer group learned about these families’ most pressing needs in supporting their children’s education. She hopes this knowledge will encourage future student volunteer groups to continue donating time and developing programs that will expand the educational opportunities for the rural primary school.

“We didn’t think the project or scholarship could be this large,” Yang says, “[This service opportunity] became what it is now because of coincidences and help from people I didn’t know when I had this project in mind, so the experience was very rewarding.”

In additional to summer trips, Yang says Chengdu No. 7 students will continue this volunteer project through be sending hard drives with updated learning materials to Guixiang Village every few months.