In this edition of the LRCCS Spotlight Series, I sat down with Courtney Henderson, 2013 graduate of our MA program. In the interview, Courtney told me about her experience since graduation, and the role she's now playing in helping to create jobs in Michigan by attracting investment from China.
Interview conducted and edited by Eric Couillard.
Couillard: Where do you call home?
Henderson: I’m from Clarkston, Michigan. It’s a suburb of Detroit.
Couillard: When did you get interested in China?
Henderson: I didn’t start studying Chinese until my sophomore year at Notre Dame. At first I thought I wanted to be an architect, but after a year in that program I realized I was actually much more interested in the arts. I made a big shift and started a great books major that was anchored in the Western tradition and decided to learn Chinese to balance it out.
I knew I wanted to pursue a master’s degree in Chinese studies after graduation, but before I took that next step, I wanted to spend some time in China first. I moved to Shenzhen for a year to teach English and experience China’s rapid development first-hand. I taught high schoolers, and they brought so much energy to the classroom. We did a lot of acting and skits – I was big on the drama.
Couillard: So when you were at CCS you did research on the college entrance exam (gaokao) – did your time in Shenzhen have something to do with that?
Henderson: Absolutely. I had around 800 students all preparing for the gaokao, and that was all they talked about, all the time. I left that experience with a lot of questions, and I wanted to explore those at CCS.
Couillard: What happened after CCS?
Henderson: I moved to D.C. and worked for a trade association focused on renewable energy.
Couillard: No China stuff?
Henderson: Almost no China stuff. I tried to sneak it in wherever I could, but the opportunities were limited. I mostly kept my China connection alive by mentoring. I volunteered with a non-profit called Asian American Lead which connects mentors with Asian-American youth in need of a positive role model. I ended up being paired with a 9 year old Chinese girl who is a real beam of light.
Couillard: Do you still keep in touch with her?
Henderson: Yeah! I was just back in D.C. for work and went a few days early to meet up with her – she’s 13 now.
Couillard: What sparked your move back to Michigan?
Henderson: I wanted to be a part of Detroit’s comeback and surround myself with that creative energy.
Couillard: Tell me about the Michigan China Innovation Center (MCIC). When you started was it brand new or had it been around?
Henderson: It was brand new.
Couillard: How did MCIC get started?
Henderson: MCIC got started with the support of Governor Snyder and a grant from the State of Michigan. Our main goal is to create jobs in Michigan by attracting investment from China.
Couillard: What sorts of resources do you have available to attract FDI?
Henderson: We have three main resources:
1. Information: Chinese companies often need help figuring out energy costs, labor costs, etc. We help them find that information.
2. Introductions: Many of these companies also need to find lawyers, accountants, and other service providers. We help them get connected.
3. Financial incentives.
Couillard: So what do you do for MCIC?
Henderson: I’m a business development manager, so essentially, I build relationships and “sell” Michigan to potential Chinese investors. I’m also in charge of MCIC’s marketing and communications work. Since joining the team, I helped brand our center, updated our logo, and built a bilingual website: http://michiganchina.org/en/
Couillard: What do you like about working there?
Henderson: I’ve always enjoyed bridging the gap between the U.S. and China. When I was at CCS, I loved participating in outreach activities. My favorite CCS outreach activity took me back to my own school district in Clarkston where I taught a few lessons on Chinese characters. When I was a student there, I didn’t have the opportunity to learn about China, so it was really rewarding to open that door for kids in my community.
In a way that’s what I want to do on a larger scale for the entire state of Michigan. Growing up here I’ve been given so many opportunities, including studying at CCS. Now I want to use those skills and experiences to serve the people in my state.