The Mississippi River, which holds such an important place in North America’s geography, ecology, and culture, is now also helping build bridges between the United States and China.
On July 23, the Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS) welcomed some of China’s finest high school students, who had come to learn about the Mississippi River. The students are spending 18 days visiting three states as part of “Rivers as Bridges,” an international exchange program sponsored by Environment and Public Health Network for Chinese Students and Scholars (ENCSS).
“Today, we are in the very right place,” said Xiaodong Kuang, executive vice president of ENCSS. LACMRERS is set near Muscatine, which has a special significance in U.S.-China relations. Earlier this year, Muscatine received Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who had visited the community decades earlier as a student.
The students arrived at LACMRERS, which is operated by IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, a unit of the University of Iowa College of Engineering, on a blisteringly hot July day. The Rivers as Bridges program includes a rigorous educational curriculum. “Every day, they’re basically in a mobile classroom,” said Curriculum Director Jack Palmer. Kuang agreed, and noted that it is an honor to even be a part of this group. “It’s a fairly intensive program,” Kuang said. “It’s quite competitive.”
LACMRERS Director Doug Schnoebelen led the students through exercises examining sediment cores and learning about the pH of various fluids, including Coca-Cola, tap water, and river water.
“[There are] no wrong answers,” Schnoebelen told the students. “Have fun.”
IIHR Postdoctoral Research Scholar Carrie Davis showed the students how to compare the quality of river water with water in a nearby pond.
Later, the students enjoyed a picnic lunch and boat rides on the Mississippi. They also got a chance to meet Herky, the University of Iowa’s popular mascot, and to speak with a UI admission counselor.
Yonyi Shi, a 16-year-old student from Xian, China, said she was enjoying her visit to the United States. Back home in China, she had studied U.S. culture, and was now experiencing it firsthand. “I like the education and the environment,” Shi said. “I just feel comfortable here.” She called the Mississippi River “very beautiful.”
Kuang explained that ENCSS is beginning a 10-year initiative to connect students, businesses, and others in China with their counterparts in the United States and elsewhere, with the goal of improving the environment and public health. Kuang adds that the exchange also celebrates the anniversary of U.S. President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972 with a new era of collaboration and friendship between the two nations.