Young Shanghai entrepreneur shares his knowledge with student externs

Apr. 26, 2019 — Though Grinnell and Shanghai, China, are nearly 7,000 miles apart, Jason Chen ’07 has managed to bridge that vast gap – and share his entrepreneurial experience – by hosting student externs during spring break.

This year was Chen’s fourth participating in the program, and overall the College had 65 different alums host student externs for job shadowing. The vast majority of those students also stayed at the alums’ homes.

Chen is the founder and CEO of Shanghai-based MSW Media. He hosts a weekly online talk show – similar to Dr. Phil, he explains – and has online publications focusing on the hot topic of dating and relationships, with some 4.5 million registered viewers and an estimated 450 million total views.

“Initially, sponsoring the externship was a way for me to pay back the College and the Grinnell community,” explains the cheerful Chen, who had two externships of his own during his time at Grinnell. “But it’s also a great way to keep connected to the Grinnell community and on a personal level. I love the College.”

In the past few years, Chen attended events featuring Grinnell College President Raynard Kington and other visitors, met with students and professors in the Global Learning Program, and co-hosted with Jingsheng Wang ’08 a dinner for Trustee Trish Anderson ‘80 when she was visiting Shanghai. 

In March, Veronica Thomas ’21 stayed with Chen and his girlfriend and shadowed Chen at his company. She learned about Chinese youth culture, mobile technology, and the differences between U.S. and Chinese social media.

Thomas, an independent major in narrative studies, is preparing for a film career after Grinnell and applied for the externship to enhance her video production skills.

“Jason not only does video production,” says Thomas, “but he does a web series on dating and relationship advice, which he feels is his way to improve the dating culture in China. That fits my idea of using filmmaking to create social change and was perfect for what I want to do professionally.”

Veronica Thomas ’21 in Shanghai, China for her media focused externship with Jason Chen '07.
Veronica Thomas ’21 in Shanghai, China for her media focused externship with Jason Chen '07.

Each day in Shanghai, Thomas went to work with Chen and interacted with his small team of employees. She edited a video talk, did research on WeChat (China’s multipurpose application for nearly everything on social media), learned how Chen’s company is structured, and interviewed Chen and his employees. “We also went to a lot of amazing restaurants, an urban planning museum, and saw a lot of French colonial architecture,” says Thomas, who described the externship as life-changing.

“I’d never been to China, and I’d never been abroad by myself,” says Thomas, who is from Oak Park, Illinois. “This was a big step of independence and getting a taste of pursuing what I was interested in on my own. It also confirmed my interest in video editing and it was nice to show Jason my work and get his confirmation that my skills are good. And it inspired me to think about the ways in which technology is rapidly changing, and how I can fit that into my professional goals. Jason started this company from scratch and has been just as fluid as the existing technology, and I admire that so much. I want to be able to do that too.”

For Chen, whose independent major at Grinnell was entrepreneurship and social good, the externship is a chance to share with students the entirely different world of China’s Internet and media, from WeChat to the microblogging site Weibo.

“We talk about marketing and publishing our show, how we edit and pick cover images and titles, and what’s allowed and not allowed,” he says.

Last year, Chen hosted Amanda Weber ’21, who participated in company job interviews when Chen was recruiting recent college graduates.

Chen’s also been a guest speaker via Skype for the Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership at Grinnell, was a guest speaker in Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies courses, and traveled to Grinnell for his 10th reunion. It’s the externships he’s hosted that have been especially rewarding.

“I’ve had a great time each time the past four years,” he says. “Grinnellians are always amazing. They update me on what’s happening on campus and our discussions are always intellectually rigorous. It’s like a breath of fresh air.”

—by Anne Stein '84

For your information:

Jason Chen was one of was one of 65 Grinnell alumni who hosted student externships this spring. Learn more about hosting an externship during spring break 2020.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.