Board of Directors

We are a group of Americans and Chinese dedicated to promoting education and sustainable development in Liangshan, China. The Cool Mountain Education Fund is made possible solely through the efforts of unpaid volunteers. Meet our board of directors.

Stevan Harrell, President

Steve Harrell, President

Steve is a founding member of the CMEF Board of Directors, and has served as President Since its inception.  He is a University of Washington anthropologist who has worked in Taiwan and China for over 40 years, and in Liangshan for over 20 years. He and his wife Barbara live in Seattle, Washington. He retired in June, 2017 after teaching for 43 years at the University of Washington. For more about Steve’s history in Yangjuan and the history of CMEF, please read Our Story.

Lauren Brown, Treasurer and Tami Blumenfield, Vice President

Tami Blumenfield, Vice-President
Tami, a founding member of the CMEF board, has been visiting the mountains of Southwest China since she was a Fulbright scholar in 2002-04. She entered graduate school in Sociocultural Anthropology at the University of Washington in 2004, and received her Ph.D. in 2009 for a study of media and tourism among the Na, the Nuosu’s neighbors to the west. She became active at Yangjuan School while in graduate school, returning several times including conducting two teacher training sessions on using local knowledge in the school curriculum. She has served as both treasurer and secretary of the CMEF board. She is now Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at Furman University, and spent 2015-2016 as a Fulbright Scholar. She visited Yangjuan in July 2015 for the first time in nine years, and found some interesting changes, and she is finishing editing a film of the story of Yangjuan School.

Lauren Brown, Treasurer

Lauren graduated from the University of Washington in Public Health and Anthropology in 2006. As an undergraduate researcher in the UW-Worldwide Program, she conducted anthropological fieldwork on medical decision-making in and around Yangjuan village for which she received a Mary Gates Research Training Grant. Since graduating from the UW, Lauren has worked in the area of ovarian cancer screening at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Seattle, WA) and as an intern for the Immunization Policy Unit at the World Health Organization (Geneva, Switzerland). She recently completed her Masters of Science in Public Health with an emphasis in health policy and global health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC). She now works as a business development officer at FHI 360, a global non-profit organization with an evidence-based approach to health and development solutions for the world’s most vulnerable populations. She is now a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore


Kaitlin Banfill

Kaitlin Banfill, Secretary and Artistic Coordinator

Kaitlin graduated in Anthropology from the University of Washington in 2012, where her research focused on rural migrants living in Shanghai and their strategies for social mobility through employment and skill-training in the city. Through this research, she became curious about skill training education for rural people in China. She spent a year as a Fulbright scholar in Chengdu, researching the experience of Yangjuan graduates at vocational and technical colleges. She is also interested in Nuosu language and Nuosu fashion (both old and new). Kaitlin is currently an Anthropology Ph.D. student at Emory University, continuing ethnographic study of Nuosu Yi students from various rural regions in Liangshan who are attending college and university. As more rural students are beginning to receive higher education rather than pursue migrant labor, she is interested in how this is impacting these students’ lives and the rural communities where they come from. She hopes her research will help facilitate education for more rural students in the future!

Geoffrey Morgan Communications Coordinator

Geoffrey Morgan, Communications Coordinator

Geoffrey is a Seattle native and first went to the Baiwu Valley in 2007, as a student on the University of Washington -Sichuan University exchange. While in the valley he took charge of enlarging and repairing the water system for Yangjuan village, and wrote his honors thesis for the Jackson School of International Studies on his experience as a critique of international development. During his time spent in the village he fell in love with the people and saw the good that CMEF was providing and wanted to help. He is currently working with CMEF as the secretary and calendar coordinator. While at the UW he also obtained an honors degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering. After completing his degrees at the UW he went to the University of Cambridge to read for his Master’s degree in Engineering for Sustainable Development. He is now working in Copenhagen as an infrastructure resilience specialist for the United Nations Office for Project Services. Outside of CMEF he enjoys backpacking, scuba diving, and cycling.


Sara Celms

Sara Celms

Sara first visited Yangjuan School as an exchange student at Sichuan University in 2004-05. For her senior anthropology project, she made a video of Nuosu women’s traditional needlework skills. She returned in 2006 to teach kindergartners finger-painting and hand-washing. Sara spent so much time at the University of Washington that she earned a BA in Anthropology, a MEd in Special Education, and became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She is a special education teacher in Seattle Public Schools. Sara loves teaching her middle school students who have autism. While work is fun and fulfilling, she also enjoys spending time with her Chengdu born terrier, Baozi.


Li Xingxing

An anthropologist and historian at the Sichuan Provincial Nationalities Research Institute in Chengdu, Xingxing has been visiting Yangjuan since 1999, when he was one of the founding supervisors of the Yangjuan Primary School. He visits several times every year, has an adopted daughter, Mgebbu Jiejiemo, from Yangjuan, and has been instrumental in the success of the Yangjuan School. For more about Xingxing, please read Our Story.


He Wenhai 

He Wenhai (Yyhxo Vuqie)

He Wenhai (Yyhxo Vuqie)

He Wenhai, or Yyhxo Vuqie, joined the CMEF board in September, 2015.  He is a Nuosu scholar, native of Mianning County in Liangshan, is an Assistant Researcher at the Sichuan Nationalities Research Institute and a doctoral student in Anthropology/Ethnology at Southwest Nationalities University.  He has interested in society, culture, and social change among minority ethnic groups in Southwest China.  He visited Yangjuan twice in 2015, and will be handling finances and local liaison for CMEF in Sichuan.  We are delighted to have Vuqie as our newest board member.


Rachel Meyer, Development Coordinator

Rachel’s First Work in Yangjuan–Water Safety

Rachel graduated from the University of Washington in 2006 with a B.S. in Plant Biology and a B.A. in Visual Art. At UW she spent a year at Sichuan University in the UW Worldwide program and worked with the Yi communities in and around Yangjuan on two projects: 1) to catalogue the local uses of plants for food, fodder, medicine, and construction, and 2) to test the water quality of agricultural streams and drinking water sources. These experiences in Yangjuan that showcased innovative plant uses in marginalized communities inspired Rachel to study the uses, history, and evolution of food crop landraces. She wanted to combine molecular laboratory research with fieldwork as much as possible, so pursued a PhD at the City University of New York and New York Botanical Garden joint Biology Program, studying Asian eggplants, followed by a postdoc at New York University, studying African rice. She is now executive director of the University of California Consortium for Genomic Conservation. Grateful to the Yi people, who guided her education, Rachel seeks to improve educational opportunities for students in these communities.

Eddie and our friend Hxisse Vuga


Edwin (Eddie) Schmitt

Edwin (Eddie) Schmitt graduated from the University of Washington in 2006 in Economics and Chinese Language and Literature. As an undergrad and later as the site manager for the UW Worldwide program he made many trips to Yangjuan to support various research projects there. During those years he became close with many of the students and teachers of Yangjuan School, many of whom he now considers to be family. After finishing an Applied Anthropology Master’s Degree at Oregon State University, Eddie began a Doctoral Program in the Department of Anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His past research interests included commodification of agriculture, ethnic tourism and hydropower development in Southwest China. His dissertation research is focused on examining the linkages between the ritual and agricultural systems of three different ethnic groups living in rural Sichuan Province, including the Nuosu, and their adaptation to ecological, social and political change.