For the first few minutes of his presentation, Chad Pregracke’s audience of high school Chinese students had no idea what to make of him. His bouncing energy walking back and forth calling out individuals with raised eyebrows, high fives, fist bumps, and a pointing outstretched arm, seemed to mystify them.
But as he talked about his work cleaning up the Mississippi and other rivers, and showed a couple of videos from CBS and CNN about him and his crew, no translation was necessary to understand his message of empowerment and leadership to take action when you care about something.
Pregracke asked if anyone spent time volunteering. No hands went up, but that only reinforced what he had to say. “If you see a dirty river, clean it up. If you see a problem in your home country, clean it up. Are there any problems in China? I’ve heard it’s pretty bad there. But you can clean it up.”
A couple of people asked how he found companies to fund his work. Pregracke laughed. “Just ask! And keep asking. It took me four years to get the first one. All they can do is say no, and you go on to the next one.”
Pregracke’s presentation on July 22 at Black Hawk College in East Moline, Illinois, followed the group’s first academic classroom session after their arrival in the U.S.
Dr. Xixuan Collins, Assistant Professor of Biology, first led half the group in a biology lab identifying microscopic animals in water samples from Singing Bird Creek. The other half explored the creek and learned how to take samples as they waited for their turn in the lab.
After the presentation, students, visitors, Black Hawk College staff and student volunteers were served dinner in the Hawk’s Nest, the student dining room. Despite their exhaustion, many of the Chinese students were eagerly talking with Black Hawk students scattered at each table, comparing notes on travels abroad and what to study in college.