Wikimedia Commons

Seven current and former Yale students were awarded Schwarzman scholarships and will study in Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University in Beijing, one of China’s most prestigious universities, starting next fall.

The students and alumni selected are Lionel Jin ’18, Reid Magdanz ’12, William Drexel ’16, Seth Kolker ’15, Joseph Kim ’16, Junrong Chen ’17 and Andi Wang ’17. They are among 142 scholars selected from over 4,000 applicants. The Schwarzman Class of 2019 comprises students from 39 countries and 97 universities. All students will spend a year pursuing a master’s degree with a concentration in one of three fields: public policy, international studies, and economics and business.

Blackstone founder Stephen Schwarzman ’69 established the award last year in order to support the education of future world leaders, who Schwarzman believes must understand China’s role in the world. Schwarzman is also the benefactor behind the Schwarzman Center and has been active in high-profile philanthropy for a number of years, making significant donations to public institutions like the New York Public Library. He is also a confidant of President Donald Trump.

Schwarzman has contributed $100 million toward his scholarship program and is in the midst of fundraising an additional $500 million to allow up to 200 scholars to take part in the program each year. With a total of $516 million endowed so far, including Schwarzman’s $100 million contribution, the program is nearing its $600 million goal.

Jin, the only current student selected for the scholarship this year, will graduate with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He received the Hart Lyman prize, awarded to a junior “for character and achievement,” was the editor-in-chief of the Yale Scientific Magazine and served as treasurer of European Horizons, a student-led think tank.

Jin said he applied for the award because he believed that China’s rise was one of the “major stories playing out today,” and he was excited to explore the country and see the transformation first hand.

“Having lived in China, Singapore, and now the U.S., I hope to help build a mutual understanding between classmates who will be coming in with very different views,” he said.

Jin added that after receiving the degree, he hopes to use his experience to help organizations forge fruitful partnerships with Chinese counterparts, especially in the field of technology, where he noted Chinese companies are doing “incredible things.”

Magdanz, who focused on natural resource policy and management while at Yale, has spent much of the last five years working as a staff member for Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins in the Alaska House of Representatives. Since graduation, Magdanz has also worked with hydropower development projects as a Luce Scholar in Vientiane, Laos and interned in the Obama White House.

Magdanz said he applied for the scholarship because he has long had an interest in public policy and sees himself working on it throughout his career.

“It’s important for 21st century America to have policymakers who understand how Chinese government, businesses and individuals see their role in the world and exercise their influence,” he said. “I hope that by expanding my knowledge of China, the Schwarzman Scholars program will allow me to play a more helpful role shaping public policy both back home in Alaska and in the U.S. at large.”

Drexel, who graduated from Yale in 2016, is currently a master’s student at the University of Cambridge, where he studies the intellectual history of political religion. As a 2016–17 recipient of Yale’s Gordon Fellowship, he also conducted independent research in India on environmentalism and religion and has contributed to emergency maritime search and rescue activities in Mediterranean and Aegean migration crises. During his time at Yale, he served as the president of the Yale Refugee Project.

As a Schwarzman scholar, Drexel hopes to “examine the complexities of governance, society and religion in China” and eventually wants to work in diplomacy.

Kolker graduated from Yale summa cum laude with a degree in ethics, politics and economics. Before becoming an educator, he worked for a social enterprise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a waste pickers’ union in Delhi and a think tank in Washington. He spent the last three years teaching math at a low-income public Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. At the school, he co-founded a ninth grade academy and a course on “How to Change the World.”

“It’s hard to imagine not working with kids from Central Falls next year,” Kolker said. “Teaching has made me a more real human being. At the same time, I’ve gotten frustrated with how poorly our public education system prepares kids to be citizens in the 21st century.”

After receiving his master’s degree, Kolker said, he wants to keep working at the “intersection of community and policy” either by staying in education, working in social entrepreneurship or participating more directly in politics.

Kim majored in mechanical engineering at Yale. During his undergraduate years, he was selected to present his research on bulk metallic glass at American Society of Mechanical Engineers’s International Mechanical Engineering Science Symposium in Montreal. He was also a recipient of Yale’s Light Fellowship in China and Korea, where he worked with the North Korea Strategy Center to develop new technologies that would increase outside media viewership in North Korea. At the moment, he serves as a lead engineer at Utilities Global Business Unit at Oracle, a multinational technology corporation.

As a Schwarzman scholar, Kim said he hopes to learn how to “harness technology to solve social problems of the 21st century.”

Chen, who graduated from Yale with an economics degree, said he was interested in studying China’s political system and macroeconomic policies. He has conducted research on the impact of local government debts on land prices in many Chinese provinces. He has also worked with grassroot entities as an intern in a Communist Party of China county committee.

Wang also received an economics degree from Yale. A China native, during his undergraduate years he interned as a loan officer at China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation Microfinance, China’s largest microfinance nonprofit organization. After college, he worked as a research associate in the finance unit of Harvard Business School.

Wang said he applied for the program because he believed in Schwarzman’s vision “of bringing together aspirational young people from around the world” and encouraging them to work together to solve some of the challenges that the world faces.

Additionally, Wang said, having spent five years in the U.S. for college and work, he saw the scholarship as a “chance to reconnect to [his] motherland” before spending five more years in the U.S. for his graduate studies.

“China is changing fast, and I feel the need to update my understanding of it, even as a native,” Wang said.

Over the course of the year, he added, he hoped to develop his research skills in Chinese financial markets and corporate finance by talking to practitioners and regulators.

Eighteen Yale students have been selected as Schwarzman scholars since the program was founded.

Anastasiia Posnova |