Earlier this month, Carola McGiffert, the head of the 100,000 Strong Foundation, visited the University of Chicago as part of a trip to the city to promote the initiative’s work among local businesses and educators. 100,000 Strong is a United States government-backed organization working to increase numbers of American students learning Mandarin in U.S. high schools and universities and studying abroad in China.
During her visit to the University, McGiffert met with members of the Foundation’s Student Ambassadors program. Ambassadors are chosen to share their experiences studying in China and learning the language with others in order to further promote the program. While the organization was originally founded with the goal of achieving 100,000 students studying abroad in China, McGiffert announced the completion of that goal in 2014.
According to McGiffert, “The 100,000 Strong Foundation mission is to ensure that our next generation of leaders has the language skills and cultural understanding to effectively manage the U.S.–China relationship, the most consequential relationship in the world.” The organization promotes the study of Mandarin among American students and provides opportunities for studying abroad. Additionally, 100,000 Strong works to build connections between the U.S. government and business interests and their counterparts in China.
A significant part of 100,000 Strong’s work is accomplished through its Student Ambassador program, made up mostly of college undergraduates who complete various projects aimed at increasing interest and awareness among their peers and community. “It is these sorts of creative efforts that are instrumental in building a national grassroots movement to encourage more students to deepen their understanding of China,” McGiffert wrote in an email.
100,000 Strong also oversees an Environmental Action Fund, which unites Chinese and American students to work on solutions to the global sustainability problems faced by the world’s two largest producers of carbon dioxide emissions.
The Foundation’s most recent program, the One Million Strong Initiative, is intended to bring the number of American youth learning Mandarin from 200,000 to One million within the next five years. The program will develop new teaching curricula and double the number of Mandarin teachers in the U.S. by working with schools and government organizations across the country. “The goal of One Million Strong—to see one million young Americans on the K-12 level studying Mandarin by 2020—is ambitious but achievable,” explained McGiffert, who believes that it is nonetheless critically important.
In terms of the 100,000 Strong Foundation’s plans for the future, McGiffert said that the organization will continue to promote personal connections between China and the U.S. “The 100,000 Strong Foundation is committed to reaching students at all academic levels, from all economic and ethnic backgrounds and from every region of the United States.”