Menghan Shen: Marshaling the Power of Her Peers
By Joe Levine
Menghan (Mandy) Shen grew up in Guangzhou, China, but first traveled to the United States when she was in middle school with her parents. She returned again in high school and yet again to attend Bryn Mawr College as an undergraduate.
As a result, Shen, who is now working on her Ph.D in education economics at Teachers College, developed a keen sense of the differences and similarities between the education systems of China and the United States.
“I’ve had the best of both systems,” she says. “But one element that’s lacking in many Chinese schools is an emphasis on critical thinking, creativity and teamwork.”
That’s especially true, Shen feels, in schools in China’s poor rural villages. For many students there, formal education ends after high school. Yet they will need to be able to think independently to start businesses or work effectively in industrial jobs.
As a high school student, Shen hoped one day to work for a non-governmental organization that focused on this issue. When her research revealed that none did, she took matters in her own hands, co- founding a non-profit called the PEER Experience Exchange Rostrum, through which Chinese college students at top universities around the world to teach critical thinking skills to rural students in small, college seminar-style summer workshops. Created in 2007 with a seed grant from Bryn Mawr, PEER now had over 150 volunteers and serves hundreds of rural students every year. It receives funding from businesses such as the Chinese steel company Shanghai Shengbao, and from the U.S.-China Foundation Organization. Shen also joined together with other students to create another NGO, Sunshine Library, which provides more than 5,000 children’s books electronically to young students in rural Chinese schools.
At TC, working with her advisor, Henry Levin, Shen plans to focus on school finance issues in China. “I care deeply about equity issues and providing high-quality resources for all students,” she says. “And funding seems to be the most important factor in that equation.”
Currently she is working at TC’s Community College Resource Center, assisting on research that focuses on American community colleges. She’s also taking a course with Professor Madhabi Chatterji on research design.
“I’d like to create a randomized control trial to evaluate how students benefit in different areas from the Sunshine Library project,” she says. “In general, I think that people who are experts in evaluation and measurement and the people who are exploring specific policy questions need to work together more closely. Because, for example, many education economists use test scores as measures of impact, but test scores may not tell the whole story.”