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Brandy Au - USA Pavilion Student Ambassador

USA Pavilion Student Ambassador from the University of Southern California, now serving at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo
September 6, 2010

Junior Achievers                                                          September 5, 2010

Last night, I went to a Junior Achievement volunteer training session in preparation for the JA Green Innovation Challenge. What is this JA business all about, you may wonder. In short, JA stands for Junior Achievement, a global non-profit organization that focuses on helping elementary and junior-school age children foster skills applicable to the “real world” of business and finance. The idea is to bring learning beyond the classroom and encourage students from an early age to develop a set of creative and entrepreneurial practices that will carry on with them later in life.

The event in particular consists of a “Green Trade” fair and presentation that teams of local schoolchildren participate in. Each team invents a product and business plan to market said product. The goal is to create something that will be economically feasible to produce and sell, but to also have an environmentally conscious element to it. During the trade fair students will market their product to “buyers” (CEOs or high level executives of sponsoring companies); essentially being salespeople for their product. During the presentation portion students provide a short and entertaining explanation—in commercial, song, speech, whatever format you might think of—about the various characteristics of their product. A third part gives team leaders, “little CEOs,” an opportunity to meet with real CEOs of sponsoring companies.

Our job as USAP volunteers is to serve as mentors to these students. We are supposed to provide suggestions and ideas on ways they can improve their product—especially when it comes to incorporating a “green” element into it, and also encourage them when it comes to pitching their product and speaking in front of an audience. Mentorship can also be as simple as coaching them on how to greet important people like CEO’s—things to say, tips on how to behave, and so on. It requires us to work closely with the teachers of the students because although they are an essential part of their education, we act as valuable (hopefully) supplements to the students’ learning experiences.

The JA training session was interesting. Basically, the idea that one would volunteer without expecting any benefits in return is still one that is slowly gaining ground in China. According to the JA rep, when the organization first established itself in China it was very difficult to convince administrators and teachers that JA wanted to become involved with students purely because of altruistic reasons. Many suspected JA was driven by motives to proselytize or gain economic profit. It was also a challenge getting people interested in volunteering.

I honestly didn’t anticipate having access to such a wealth of volunteer opportunities working at USAP. I volunteered at another event spending time with mistreated cats, and other people have participated in events working with migrant schoolchildren as well as kids with disabilities. In my opinion, it’s a worthwhile way to spend some of your time off as well as see a side of Shanghai that isn’t necessarily paid attention to amidst all the chaos and buzz that is the Expo.

All in all, I’m looking forward to meeting my students and seeing what creative ideas they’ve already come up with. It’s great being a child. There are no limits to imagination and possibilities. Maybe they’ll be a potent source of inspiration for me.