Maggie Shiffert and Dr. Mary Hollowell proudly show off their Clayton State University banners at the Chengdu Panda Base

A Clayton State University mini-reunion occurred at the Chengdu Panda Base in China’s Sichuan Province July 20 when associate professor of education Mary Hollowell caught up with sophomore Maggie Shiffert to visit Mei Lan, the giant panda born in Atlanta, and to learn more about the base’s operations.

Ms. Shiffert is taking part in a National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship program to study Mandarin and Chinese culture in Chengdu this summer. At home, she is enrolled in a dual studies program as a senior at Northgate High School in Newnan and as a sophmore at Clayton State.

The National Security Language Initiative is funded by the U.S. State Department and provides merit-based scholarships for eligible high school students to learn less commonly-taught languages in summer and academic-year overseas immersion programs.

Dr. Hollowell, Clayton State’s first faculty member to earn a Fulbright teaching scholarship, recently concluded five months of teaching American educational policy and children’s literature in English at Shaanxi Normal University in Xi’an.

Upon finishing her teaching assignment, Dr. Hollowell was joined by her husband, Scott Hollowell, and their daughters Kate and Sophie Mei, on a Chinese heritage tour sponsored by the Chinese Children Adoption International of Englewood, Colo.

Dr. Hollowell’s daughter Sophie Mae and Miss Shiffert were both adopted by their American parents in China, and previously had met in 2008 during the naming celebration of Xi Lan, the brother of Mei Lan who also was  born at Zoo Atlanta

John Shiffert, director of university relations at Clayton State whose family adopted both Maggie and her sister Katie Shiffert in China, told Global Atlanta that the three Chinese adoptees were part of a choral group that was invited to sing at the ceremony honoring Xi Lan 100 days after his birth.

“This is the Chinese custom,” he said adding that a similar celebration is to be held at the Atlanta Zoo to celebrate the recent birth of panda twins.

They are the offspring of the growing family of the female panda, Lun Lun, and the male, Yang Yang, as is Mei Lei, who was born at Zoo Altanta two years before Xi Lan but transferred to Chengdu in 2010.

Four-year-old Xi Lan and two-year-old Po also the offspring of Lun Lun and Yang Yang, continue to live at Zoo Atlanta.

Mr. Shiffert said that his daughter has become so interested in the pandas that she plans to continue her studies in biology and zoology following her high school graduation in May at which time she is to receive a high school diploma and an associate degree from Clayton State.

Dr. Hollowell is the author of the acclaimed memoir “The Forgotten Room, Inside a Public Alternative School for At-Risk Youth, which was published in 2009.

For more information, Mr. Shiffert may be reached by calling (678) 466-4463 or sending an email to