Joli Lacy’s Circuitous Journey

Born in China, raised and educated in the United States, and soon to spend a year in Taiwan to further advance her Chinese and marketing studies, Josephine Li (Joli) Lacy’s bilingual journey is simultaneously circumstantial, self-directed, circuitous, and passion-filled.

Her formal education began at Yinghua Academy, the only full immersion Mandarin Chinese K–8 school in Minneapolis. Lacy then attended Highland Park Senior High School in Saint Paul, where she took the University of Minnesota (UMN) courses Beginning Modern Chinese and Intermediate Modern Chinese 1 and 2 through College in the Schools (CIS).

Part of the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, CIS is a nationally accredited, concurrent enrollment program that offers high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to earn college credits by taking UMN courses at their high school classrooms. UMN courses are free to Minnesota public high school students because of the PSEO Act, a state statute that is unique in the United States.

During the 2022–23 school year alone, 385 CIS instructors from 131 high schools taught 8,357 high school students UMN courses through CIS. In turn, the same high school instructors participated in professional development activities offered by 31 CIS faculty coordinators from 22 academic departments representing six of the University’s colleges.

Joli Lacy

Now a third-year UMN student pursuing a double major in marketing at the Carlson School of Management and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (Chinese Studies Track) in the College of Liberal Arts, Lacy reflects on her CIS experience: “I knew I was being set up for success in my Chinese studies early on, while also easing some of the financial burden of paying for college classes. Earning college credits while still in high school was extremely rewarding and it made me feel like my hard work was paying off.”

A Strong and Symbiotic Partnership

Housed in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, the UMN Chinese Flagship (CFS) program is funded by a competitive federal grant and sponsored by the University’s Provost’s Office and the College of Liberal Arts. The program—one of only 13 in the United States—is dedicated to preparing students to take their place among the next generation of global professionals who are fluent in Chinese language and culture.

The students—who pursue a range of majors—typically minor or pursue a second major in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and through the Flagship program, participate in rigorous study-abroad and internship experiences.

For Lacy, this seemed like an exciting next step and one that would allow her to accelerate her learning in the same way that CIS had when she was in high school.

“I knew I was being set up for success in my Chinese studies early on, while also easing some of the financial burden of paying for college classes. Earning college credits while still in high school was extremely rewarding and it made me feel like my hard work was paying off.”

Not surprisingly, the two programs have a strong and symbiotic partnership. According to CFS Associate Director Dr. Yao Tu, who is also the faculty coordinator for CIS Chinese cohort and courses, “Nine Minnesota high schools currently offer UMN Chinese classes, and many CIS graduates choose to continue their language learning journey through the Chinese Flagship program.”

Three years into her studies, Lacy is enthusiastic about CFS and its many benefits, including the mentors from whom she receives two hours of one-on-one tutoring—in Chinese and in her chosen profession of marketing—each week. 

“Whether I want to discuss course material, practice my language skills, discuss culture, or just spend time chit-chatting with them, my tutors have all been incredibly supportive and flexible. It is awesome to have that support system readily available as a way to enhance my language abilities even more.”

Ever eager to advance her Chinese language skills, Lacy also participated in Culture and Language Integration in Chinese and English, a UMN conversation and cultural exchange forum for two populations: Twin Cities American high school students who had previously attended Chinese immersion schools and UMN international students from China. 

By her senior year in high school, Lacy was already part of the University community. And as she contemplated where she would attend college, another UMN program piqued her interest.

Embracing Two Cultures

The arc of Lacy’s childhood is best told through the children’s storybook she created as part of a classroom project to support We as One, a local Chinese language summer camp for youth that encourages discussion of meaningful topics, such as race, identity, diversity, and inclusion. The assignment: write a book that young Chinese immersion students would be interested in reading.

Xinyi's Adoption Story is a fictionalized version of Lacy's own experience as an adoptee from Lishui, China, when she was three years old. Xinyi, the book's protagonist, was adopted from Guilin. The story traces Xinyi's journey from China to Minnesota, introduces her family, her school, and not surprisingly, her youthful exuberance and determination to excel in the Chinese language.

Illustration of Xinyi and her Chinese immersion school friends from Xinyi's Adoption Story

In December 2022, The American Academy of International Culture and Education (AAICE) selected the book to be showcased in the National Chinese EXPO of Student Works. Xinyi's Adoption Story was among the 300 works chosen out of more than 4,000 submissions from 47 US states and Canada.

The honor is just one of Lacy’s many accomplishments. In late April, she won third place in AAICE's 2023 National Chinese Speech Contest. Lacy is also a student ambassador for the Carlson School and the recipient of several UMN and CFS scholarships.

Last summer, Lacy participated in an eight-week summer Chinese intensive through a Critical Language Scholarship from the US State Department. This summer, she plans to work as a marketing intern at Thomson Reuters and as a social media community manager intern for Be The Match. 

As she completes her senior year at the University, she will apply for her Flagship Capstone experience, during which she hopes to learn traditional Chinese, first through a semester of courses and then through a semester-long marketing internship—both in Taiwan.

One of her goals for that time is “to befriend and develop deep connections with local Taiwanese people.” Lacy also would like to engage in “some personal growth by taking risks and learning new things about myself.”

Xinyi's Adoption Story ends as 14-year-old Xinyi is graduating from Chinese immersion School. She says, “...I must find a way to continue learning Chinese! I'm really happy to be adopted, this special experience allows me to embrace the most beautiful aspects of the two cultures.”

It’s clear that Lacy—as author, as student, as future global marketing professional—has embraced every opportunity to do just that.

Photos courtesy Joli Lacy, UMN Chinese Flagship program, and Carlson School of Management. 

Joli Lacy's Advice for Prospective Students

For those who are considering taking a College in the Schools course: "Your future self will thank you for doing it. While in high school, I was unaware just how much CIS classes accelerated my Chinese degree completion, which ultimately allowed me to spend more time on other academics and extracurriculars. It also deepened my appreciation for the Mandarin language."

For those who are interested in applying to the Chinese Flagship program: "Determine what your goals are for participating. It is critical that you know what you hope to gain early on, as the program requires an additional time commitment and enrollment in more courses.”


Anastasia Faunce is a writer and content strategist with the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, covering the College’s personal enrichment, pre-college, ESL, and long term care programs, as well as its engagement efforts. The former director of several CCAPS programs, she worked as the director of public relations for the Minneapolis College of Art and Design prior to joining the University. Connect with her via LinkedIn.