A Tale of Two Rivers

What does Hartford have in common with Beijing and Shanghai? History professor Michael Lestz is one of three faculty who led Trinity's new summer program in China.

To understand how a city works, you start with trash and water. For the 18 students who participated in Trinity’s Megacities of the Yangtze River (MCYR) summer abroad program, this eye-opening journey from Hartford to China started at the CRRA Trash Museum and the MDC Water Treatment facility.  Both of these sites—just miles from the Trinity campus—helped them learn how a river city of 124,000 sorts through 500 tons of garbage and millions of gallons of waste water each day.
In less than a week, these same students would visit a massive city planning exposition hall in Chongqing, China, in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River basin. Here they learned how this riverside megacity of over 10 million disposes of its trash and waste water and even more importantly were introduced to the municipality's plan to add some ten million new inhabitants to the urban grid in the next decade.  This diverse group of eighteen Trinity participants, which included undergraduates at the College from Bulgaria, Hungary, Taiwan, Peking, Puerto Rico, Ireland, Spain, and Nepal. The group compared the historical, environmental, and social experience of cities elsewhere in the world in conversations with their professors and initiated a process of understanding Chinese river cities that grew more profound as the traveling investigation moved down the Yangtze.
This is what makes the Megacities of the Yangtze River program so innovative.  With credit-bearing components in urban sociology, history, and environmental science, it is a comparative, interdisciplinary exploration of urban and river life that starts with the local to understand global challenges.  Working with Trinity faculty, the participants embark on a disciplined, globe-spanning inquiry into 21st-century city life.
“Exploring Hartford provides the springboard that carries us to the larger, much more populous cities in China,” explains Professor Michael Lestz, an expert in Chinese history who leads the trip along with Xiangming Chen, the dean and director of Trinity’s Center for Urban and Global Studies, and biology professor Joan Morrison.
Every student experience in Hartford finds resonance in China. In Chongqing, the MCYR students tour a cutting-edge water treatment plant and then a visit with a leading figure in China’s “green” movement.  With the help of Professor Morrison, students learn how to test for pollutants in Hartford’s Park River, then perfect the technique during their three-week voyage down the Yangtze, the third longest river in the world and home to 280 million people.
“It is stimulating,” explains Lestz, “for us to contemplate in a rigorous way the river ecosystems and river-based societies of New England as a preparation for the urban study we do in China.  In New England, our cities are struggling to reinvent themselves. In China, by contrast, urban centers are exploding with vitality, but face their own set of challenges for discovering sustainable paths of growth.”
This is the second year for the “Megacities” program, and the timing couldn’t have been better. The students arrived in Shanghai just in time for the World Expo 2010 (what used to be called the World’s Fair) where this year’s theme is “Better City, Better Life.”
“All the pavilions at the World Expo deal with urban questions of energy, logistics, housing, and environmental impact,” says Lestz, and these are exactly the issues the students explore at universities, government agencies, and historical sites during each stop of their four-city journey.
Lestz has taught at Trinity for 30 years. He cites the recent creation of the Center for Urban and Global Studies as proof of the College’s impressive and increasing commitment to a truly global education:  “The center provides a set of core concerns for our curriculum,” says Lestz, “and provides a research platform for faculty and students drawn to an array of issues with a powerful ‘velocity’ in the contemporary world.
Parent and alumni support has also been essential. Lestz, for example, is the director of the O’Neill Asia Cum Laude Endowment, a scholarship fund created by two Trinity alumni to support study abroad experiences with Trinity faculty. Lestz will also chair a similar scholarship fund recently set up by the parents of alumna Charlotte Riggs ’08.
“Trinity College and the visionary donors who are the ‘angels’ of our programming have made it possible for us to pursue innovative experiential learning opportunities for students in our area of expertise,” says Lestz. “When those who back you understand the compelling quality of experiential learning, creating the framework for high-quality study abroad programs is that much easier.” The Megacities of the Yangtze River program was founded thanks to the support of the China Urban Studies Endowment Fund.
Learn more about Trinity’s unique urban + global focus and the new Center for Urban & Global Studies.