Zhener Ma and Yilun Wu

Located in China’s economic powerhouse, NYU Shanghai helps its students shape the future of global finance, trade, and creative design through the lens of both Eastern and Western traditions. It is this hybrid Chinese-American education that helped the founders of College Sex Education (CSE), a series of interactive materials on sex and health, create a more socially conscious product and become NYU’s next Changemakers.

Growing up in China, seniors Zhener Ma and Yilun Wu noticed alarming trends at Chinese colleges; increasing rates of HIV and unplanned pregnancies, yet no discussion of their repercussions. “China, though more open than ever before, is still conservative about issues surrounding sex,” says Zhener. “In fact, notions of consent, harassment, and sexual assault are borderline ignored, leaving students with few places on campus to report their concerns.” The sex education and resources the students receive at NYU Shanghai, however, are robust. How could they bridge this cultural gap?

Their answer was to develop online curriculum for sex education and offer it as a mandatory course for Chinese students. Their program, College Sex Education (CSE), incorporates animated story lines that touch on safe sex, basic anatomy, and harassment as well as the nuances of gender and sexuality. The program assesses students on what they’ve learned and points them to further resources. “Because our team has a background in both American and Chinese styles of education, we understand how to translate elements from established programs on alcohol and sex in the United States to students from our native home,” Zhener explains.

screenshot of animated character going to the doctor

To launch their ideas, the team submitted their venture to NYU’s Reynolds Changemaker Challenge while studying in New York City. They walked away with a wider network of contacts and support and also took home a 2016 Seed Grant. Later that year, they spent an intensive summer editing their scripts and polishing their animations with financial support from the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Fund at NYU Shanghai. The opportunity allowed them to collaborate with Marianne Petit, a professor of interactive media arts, as well as local officials at the health and wellness center on campus.

With the curriculum nearly complete, Zhener and Yilun are ready to pitch the program directly to Chinese universities. Even as they embark toward graduate school and employment after graduation, they see CSE as an important social mission. As Zhener says, “We’ve always wanted to make the Chinese public more aware of sex education. The opportunities at NYU Shanghai pushed us to finally take action.”


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