The inaugural class of Yale SOHO China Scholars gathered with University officials and donors Saturday to celebrate the launch of the $10 million scholarship program at Yale.
Yale is the second school to take part in the SOHO China Undergraduate Scholarship Fund, after Harvard University, which introduced its program last year. A broader $100 million endowment fund was created in 2014 through the SOHO China Foundation, an organization funded and operated by SOHO China, the nation’s largest prime office real-estate developer. The fund aims to encourage low-income Chinese students to apply to elite American universities, and has awarded scholarships to seven Yalies from China this year. The Yale SOHO scholars were joined at the Saturday event by University President Peter Salovey, former U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke ’72, four Harvard SOHO scholars and the foundation’s co-founders, Chinese billionaires Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi.
“I’m really pleased with the establishment of the SOHO China Scholars program. It is going to enable more Chinese scholars to come to the United States to study,” Locke said. “With those students getting a glimpse of American life and getting the best college education in the world, they will be more effective as business leaders, political leaders and scientists, which will enhance the U.S.-China relationship.”
During the daylong private event, the donors outlined their vision for the fund. In addition, Locke, as well as MIT Sloan School of Management professor Yasheng Huang, delivered talks on current events in China, such as economic growth and the state of the US-China relationship.
Zhang told the scholars she wanted to set an example for other Chinese entrepreneurs to donate to top American universities, as well as to encourage Chinese students to apply to American universities, regardless of their financial situation. Zhang did not respond to questions about why she chose to donate to American, rather than Chinese, universities.
However, scholars interviewed expressed confusion about how the Fund works or how they were selected.
Harvard SOHO scholar Amy Zeng said the Fund may be more about raising awareness for low-income Chinese students than actually increasing their financial aid packages. Several students noted that their packages had not changed even after they were named as scholars. Others did not know how much of their financial aid came from the program.
“The SOHO scholar is mostly a matter of title,” Harvard SOHO scholar Qiuqiu Gao said. “The aid package doesn’t change.”
Scholars also noted that there is currently no application process to become a scholar, adding that they were unclear about the selection process or criteria. Hui Yang ’19 said after he was accepted to Yale, the financial aid office asked him to submit a resume, and that is likely how they chose him.
“And they told me, ‘Congratulations, you were selected as a SOHO scholar’ in the summer,” he said.
Despite the mostly nominal impact of the Scholarship, scholars said they feel they now have special responsibilities both on campus and at home. Gao said the scholars are responsible for breaking down the stereotype in China that one has to be rich to attend universities like Harvard and Yale.
Harvard scholar Kang Le said that the scholars could help improve relations between the two countries in the long term.
“I think understanding is fundamental to any relationship,” he said. “By being ambassadors, we can understand each other better. Also, we can be ambassadors for China on campus, and raise awareness about China among the U.S. community.”
Harvard University received $15 million from the SOHO China Undergraduate Scholarship Fund.
Monica Wang contributed reporting.