The University of Maryland's Mandarin Center for Chinese Language Teacher Certification and Development is helping teach 1 million U.S. K-12 students Mandarin by 2020.

The One Million Strong initiative, which President Obama and China's President Xi Jinping announced in September 2015, has a goal of having "1 million of the next generation of leaders have a deeper understanding of China by creating a pipeline of China-savvy employees in a range of critical industries," according to US-China Strong Foundation's website. There are 200,000 Mandarin student speakers in the U.S. currently.

This university joins the University of Washington and New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, as well as the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, for this initiative, said Morgan Jones, US-China Strong's chief operating officer. The nonprofit foundation selected this university to participate in October 2016.

"It's a great honor, but also a testament to the professionals and faculty that we have here on campus that have been working with China for so long," said Nathan Ahrens, this university's China affairs director.   

The initiative is divided into three separate "pillars," Jones said. The first pillar is teacher training, which is where this university comes in. Second is the curriculum pillar, which makes sure there are proper standards K-12 schools are implementing to learn Mandarin nationwide. The last pillar is state and local outreach, where teachers at this university and nationwide will be trained to learn how to better teach Mandarin to K-12 students.

The center focuses on developing effective education policies and practices, as well as creating relationships with school systems, and establishing programs that help develop innovative educational practices, the website states. Although the department is still working out on how the program will work for the One Million Strong initiative, it hopes to help US China strong reach their goal by 2020 by providing the right tools to train teachers who want to teach Mandarin.

"University of Maryland really came up as a program that has extremely strong teacher training-related programs, particularly in regards to Chinese language culture," Jones said. "They have a really strong staff and overall great idea behind how to increase the number of Chinese language teachers overall and ensure that they are trained well enough to prepare to teach more Americans the language and bridge the gap between the two countries."

This is the second presidential initiative with US-China Strong, with the first one being a 100,000 Strong initiative started in 2009 to expand the number of U.S. students studying abroad in China by 2014, according to the website.   

This university's Mandarin Center for Chinese Language Teacher Certification and Development already implements characteristics that US-China Strong is trying to accomplish with its One Million Strong initiative, Ahrens said.

"While we do have this existing Chinese language teacher certification and development program, we are trying to look at how to get more sustainable funding to continue supporting that and how the program can be expanded to attract more teachers into the program," he said. "Through [US-China Strong Foundation], it can help us secure funding to help expand out program more confidently."

Ying Zhang, a lecturer in the teaching and learning, policy and leadership department, said she is confident the university will accomplish its part in this initiative as they will be teaching interested students about ways to teach Mandarin in schools around the country. Zhang said she is excited for the this opportunity, as it poses a challenge for the university to meet the goal.

"This will give us more students, as we are partnered with One Million Strong," Zhang said. "This will bring color to our program and it will allow us to gain more students as we strive to help students across the nation learn Mandarin."

Ahrens said there is a huge need for Mandarin speakers Ahrens added that it is critical to train more Americans who have the ability to facilitate the culture and language. There are 955 million people who speak Mandarin, according to accreditedlanguage.com.

"We are still deficient in our government, academic institutions and businesses of people that have strong professional Chinese language capabilities," he said. "It's hard to find any industry or disciple that is not touched by China in some way."