Where it all Began: the First Project Pengyou Leadership Training Summit

first cohort

Careful Preparations

This could be the start of something amazing. After an intense process of selecting 40 Fellows from a group of 300 excellent applicants, hours spent finalizing logistics and programming, and a twelve hour flight to Cambridge from Beijing, we would finally meet our very first cohort of Project Pengyou Leadership Fellows.

We didn’t know what to expect. All we knew was we had flown 40 fellows from 29 states and 107 study abroad programs to Harvard to learn leadership skills. Those skills would be taught by nine coaches who were veterans of Marshall Ganz’s Harvard course on leadership and organizing. Although the fellows varied in age, geographic region, and cultural background, they were united in their commitment to U.S.-China relations. Most had been interested in China from an early age and some had already started Chinese clubs at their schools. More than one expressed interest in becoming the future U.S. Ambassador to China.

In the beginning, there was a first-day-at-school feeling in the air, but there was no time to be nervous: we hit the ground running. Chief Pengyou Holly Chang introduced the goals of the leadership summit:

  1. Crafting public narratives
  2. Building relationships with stakeholders
  3. Recruiting leadership teams
  4. Strategizing and organizational positioning
  5. Empowering others through leadership and action


pplts 1
Leadership Fellows Kelicia, Meg, Lily, Simonetta, and Adam

After laying down the basic practices of leadership in community organizing, it was time to get to know each other better. We often tell stories to make others laugh, or convey a message, but this time we were learning to craft our stories into powerful tools: public narratives with the power to inspire others. The ideal public narrative weave a story of self, us, and now into a compelling reason for listeners to join a movement. The coaches showed us that stories are visceral, powerful, and very effective when perfected, and we all know that living in China is the best way to pick up a story or two.

But mobilizing isn’t just about telling stories; it’s also about strategy, which we defined as “turning resources you have into the power you need to get what you want—your goal.” First, we had to learn to recognize our allies in this cause. Only then should we develop a theory of change—our grand battle plan—before deciding on our tactics—the specific activity which will bring about change.

Here is the full list of our inaugural Leadership Fellows cohort!

  1. Bethany Allen – Yale University
  2. Tyler Bleuel – Horace Mann School
  3. Adam Bohan – Creighton University
  4. Dorronda Bordley – Wake Forest University
  5. Russell Brodie – University of Southern California
  6. Han Chen – Brookings Institute
  7. Emily Cheung – University of Maryland
  8. Jarlene Choy – Teach for China
  9. Charlotte Cotter – Middlebury College
  10. Frank Dolce – University of Pittsburgh
  11. Shahin Firoozmand – University of California, San Diego
  12. Alec Grigorian – Boston College High School
  13. Jordan Hayward – University of Mississippi
  14. Olivia Henshaw – American University
  15. Kelicia Hollis – University of Michigan
  16. Meredith King – University of Kentucky
  17. Orin Lincoln – Georgia Institute of Technology
  18. Mack Lorden – Ohio State University
  19. Maria Loverde – College of William & Mary
  20. Ymara Magloire – Medgar Evers College Preparatory School
  21. Avinash Mahbubani – University of South Florida
  22. Ervin Edward Mitchell III – Cincinnati Country Day School
  23. Sara Monteabaro – New York University
  24. Natalie Nagorski – Saint Ann’s School
  25. Kyle Obermann – St. Olaf College
  26. Marjorie Perry – Emory University
  27. Lillian Prueher – University of Washington
  28. Michele Helen Reyes – Valparaiso University
  29. Margaret Rudy – Grinnell College
  30. Natalie Sammarco – Hopkins Nanjing Center
  31. Lillygol Sedaghat – University of California, Berkeley
  32. Simonetta Simmons – George Mason University
  33. Evan Staff – Beloit College
  34. Andrew Switzer – St. Olaf College
  35. Karen Thang – University of California, Berkeley
  36. Brice Turner – John Hopkins University
  37. Alicia Underhill – University of Virginia
  38. Annabel Virella – Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
  39. Matthew Werth – University of Delaware
  40. Matthew Williams – Arizona State University

a Pengyou energizer!

On the last day we were treated with two guest speakers, Tara Vanacore and Jessica Beinecke, who represented the 100,000 Strong Foundation as well as a panel featuring several members of our board of directors, Nicolas Chen—who opened with a hilarious presentation about cultural differences between the U.S. and China—Yan Mei, Henry Tang and Mei Ann Teo. The illustrious group talked about their personal China journeys and expressed their admiration for our fellows. Holly talked about future plans for the Leadership Fellows Program, and of the Project Pengyou Chapters they would start on their campuses. Although is was only a weekend, it felt like a lifetime; there were tears and congratulations and the fellows felt like old friends. When people share an experience like living and studying in China, they can bond extremely quickly. The summit mixed many different personalities and beliefs but in the end we realized what was truly important: that we had been through this experience together.

To see our vision come to fruition and have such a profound impact made it all worth it. Thank you to everyone who helped us on this journey and who participated—our exceptional coaches, our amazing fellows, our outstanding guest speakers. Thank you for believing in us and being a part of this journey.

We’re just getting started.

silly first cohort

Curious? Read about our second cohort of Leadership Fellows here, or apply to become a Leadership Fellow and attend the next Leadership Training Summit, October 2015 at UC Berkeley!