Seeking a Spark
“People at our Chinese school had a dream that some day we would have our very own school,” says Guodong Li, actuarial science instructor at Maryville. “But we needed a spark, something that would help others visualize our dream. That spark was Maryville.”
Founded in 1997 by a group of Chinese families, the St. Louis Modern Chinese School, as it was called then, rented classrooms in various schools for their Sunday afternoon classes in language and culture.
In 2010, Li, who was chairman of the board for the nonprofit, volunteer organization at the time, attended an exhibit showcasing the capstone work of Maryville’s interior design students. Impressed, the next day he contacted Darlene Davison, director of the interior design program.
“ … We needed a spark, something that would help others visualize our dream. That spark was Maryville.”
He had found the spark he needed in the students’ work.
In the intervening seven years, a community partnership has grown exponentially. Maryville students, alumni and their professors, along with one of the largest architecture firms in St. Louis, all stepped up to help realize the dream.
As they celebrated their 20th anniversary this fall, they had a new name — the Chinese Education and Culture Center — and a new identity to give their very own building.
Designing a Dream
“Guodong came to my classroom and told the students he needed a design proposal that would excite the Chinese school’s membership about having their own building,” says Davison. “The students formed teams, each with five weeks to create a design. It was a great experience for them to have a real client, a real proposal. They got to see how design works in every way possible.”
The student designs successfully inspired the school board. The following year, the group bought a three-story office building that allowed the center to expand services to include tea ceremonies, exhibits and performances.
“We started with 40 students,” says says Yingwen Huang, president. “Today there are 750 students.”
In anticipation of its 20th anniversary, the organization once again turned to Maryville for help. The board was looking for an adaptable design for the main floor to accommodate all the activities.
Alumni Expand the Project
“In 2015, the Lawrence Group decided to celebrate its 30th birthday,” says Danielle Krueger, ’12, an interior designer at the company. “They weren’t going to throw a big party. Instead they would take on 30 different community design projects pro bono. I called Darlene to see if she had any projects that needed help.”
Krueger turned to five other Maryville alums at the Lawrence Group who took the Chinese school design project to the next step.
“We came up with a realistic design that included a space plan, floor plan, the finished palate of color samples, fabrics, patterns, and wall coverings,” says Krueger. “Our manufacturing representatives offered discounts and donations of materials.”
New Name, New Identity
Once the new building opened, Maryville designers saw the need for an identity overhaul. This time, Caren Schlossberg-Wood, instructor of graphic design at Maryville, took on the challenge.
“My identity class formed teams to design a logo,” she says. “We started with a deep dive into Chinese history and politics, culture, traditions, heritage, the meaning of symbols and colors.”
The board chose a design by seniors Courtney Ferguson and Casey McDonough, who used the distinctive China Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo as inspiration. The learning experience went far beyond creating a beautiful design.
“We knew all about logo guidelines, but not about the visuals associated with China,” says McDonough, who worked with the typography to complement the image. “We learned a lot about Chinese culture.”
Next Steps to Growth
The list of the activities and classes now being offered at the new center is extensive: 40 different levels of Chinese language are taught, along with classes in martial arts, drawing, painting, yoga, SAT prep, ping pong, elementary and high school math competitions, income taxes, and dozens more.
As the board of directors works on long-range funding goals, they are realistic about the progress, Huang says.
“We are most thankful for all the help we have received from Maryville,” says Huang. “We want to continue to improve this facility, but we know it’s not going to happen in a year.”
This feature was originally published in the Fall 2017 edition of Maryville Magazine.