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Cathy Hao

The transformation of a Chinese school

The bell rang, but the students at Ci Ying Secondary School in China had no interest in leaving class. They were too enthralled by the Pixar movie “Up,” being shown with the digital projector and portable screen just installed by Cathy Hao.

“The kids were so excited,” said Hao, a senior biochemistry and integrated neuroscience major from Vestal. “You cannot imagine. Most of the kids don’t have TVs, so for them to see an animated movie on Blu-ray disc was amazing.”

The movie was just one part of a three-week visit in June that benefited students and teachers at Ci Ying, a school of 1,600 sixth- through ninth-graders in the rural village of the same name.

Hao, 21, who was born in China and moved to the United States at age 8, spent fall 2011 studying in Shanghai. She took a class called “Shanghai in Perspective,” and one section of the course dealt with differences between urban and rural education in China. She also taught English on weekends to children of migrant workers in Shanghai who were unable to attend the city’s public schools because their parents were from elsewhere. Hao had already visited schools in Shanghai that had luxuries such as robotics rooms and libraries with e-readers and electronic dictionaries.

“I got to see first-hand the inequality that exists in terms of education across the nation,” Hao said. “The class and my volunteer experience really motivated me to try to help the children in rural parts of China.”

A friend, fellow Binghamton University student James Men, had visited Ci Ying Secondary School in 2011 and talked with school officials about what equipment was needed. Hao and the School of Management student soon developed the Harpur Fellow project.

Hao’s proposal included bringing new audio-visual equipment to the school, instructing teachers on how to use technology, and reorganizing and rebuilding a school library.

After spending the spring semester at Manchester University in England, Hao met Men in Beijing and made the long journey to Ci Ying, where they were joined by a third Binghamton University student, Heidi Zhang. The trio bought and installed a laptop, projector and screen, while helping the teachers understand technical setup and software.

“We purchased DVDs ranging from history documentaries to physics and biology experiments,” Hao said. “Whatever lessons the teachers were doing that week, they could use the DVDs (to supplement) the material. We wanted to bridge the education from the textbook to the real thing.”

Hao then tackled the school library, with boxes of donated books sitting on a damp floor.

“James and I felt that a library is essential to children’s education,” she said. “They can’t afford to buy books outside of their basic textbooks. Few have computers at home and fewer have the Internet.”

Hao had used funds from the fellowship to purchase industrial, metal bookshelves for the library.

“It was stacks of metal and a bag of screws, nuts and bolts,” she said. “So (James and I) assembled them by hand! It was such a daunting task. But we finished it in two to three days.”

For Hao, who plans to become a doctor, the Harpur Fellows program represents the growth and vitality of internationalization at Binghamton University.

“It’s important for students to become more aware of the world and to feel a sense a responsibility to our global community,” Hao said. It’s important to help other nations as we grow ourselves.”

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Last Updated: 3/1/17