On May 27 and 28, Rackham Dean Carol A. Fierke and I had the pleasure of joining 450 alumni, faculty, and staff in Shanghai, China for the eighth annual Pan-Asia Alumni Reunion. Over the course of two days, those in attendance networked and shared memories of their time in Ann Arbor, and we looked back on what makes the U- of M experience an international one.
The Pan-Asia Alumni Reunion always serves as a special event for its attendees, but this year was special for Rackham, as we continue to celebrate the centennial of one of our oldest and most prestigious scholarships, the Barbour Endowment. During a trip to Asia in 1913, Levi Barbour met three incredibly accomplished U-M medical school alumnae and grew determined to allow other women from Asia and the Middle East the opportunity to come to Ann Arbor, obtain a U-M education, and return home to become leaders in their fields. At the reunion’s welcome reception on Saturday evening, Dean Fierke was featured as a keynote speaker, and she spoke of Levi Barbour’s generosity and how the scholarship he established serves as a key tie between Asia and the University of Michigan.
Other speakers at the Saturday reception were Dr. S. Jack Hu, U-M’s Vice President for Research, and the Alumni Association’s President and CEO, Steve Grafton, who served as the emcee for the evening. Entertainment was provided by a group of talented young Chinese musicians who ended the evening by playing “Hail to the Victors” on traditional instruments.
Sunday’s events took place at the historic Fairmont Peace Hotel and included a number of seminar sessions covering a variety of fields including political science, public health, humanities, performance art, business, education, and leadership. Following the sessions, guests were invited to a rooftop reception held over the Bund, a popular waterfront tourist spot, overlooking the river and facing the Pudong skyline. Afterward Dean Andrew Martin from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts joined Dean Fierke to cohost a dinner for alumni of both Rackham and LSA, during which attendees received an update on recent activities within each school.
Aside from scheduled reunion events, Dean Fierke and I were able to take time to reconnect with Rackham alumni and donors one- on- one. They shared memories of their time at Rackham and how their experiences prepared them for their careers. They also offered advice regarding how we can better prepare current and future graduate students for an ever-evolving global economy.
The alumni spoke highly of their time at the University of Michigan. Many talked about their continued working relationships with faculty advisors that have lasted long past graduation. Others spoke of the value in the intellectual grounding of their discipline and the professional development opportunities they received from Rackham and their departments. Some alums even met their spouses on campus, including a couple who had completed their undergraduate degrees at the same institution in Shanghai, but didn’t meet until they attended graduate school together in Ann Arbor. Though alumni shared a variety of ways in which their time as Wolverines impacted them, one thing was clear: They were able to take their experience on campus and apply it to their professional and personal lives.
Other memorable parts of the trip included a tour of Shanghai by U-M Law alum, Eric Mao, who gave us an insider’s look at the city, and conversations with alumni donors, Mr. Karl Ma, Dr. David He, and Dr. Isabelle Sun. Dr. Ma recently established an endowment at Rackham that will be announced later this fall, while Dr. He and Dr. Sun serve on the provost’s advisory committee and remain actively engaged from abroad.
Apart from the reunion activities, Dean Fierke and I enjoyed a luncheon with four of the Barbour Scholar alumnae in attendance: Dr. Wing Suet Li, Dr. Zhen Zeng-Liao, Dr. Palarp Sinhaseni, and Dr. Jing Xiao. The Scholars were able to meet one another, reminisce about their time on campus, and share information about their career paths. These four women came from different countries, are of different generations, and currently sit at different levels in their careers; however, all of them shared a grateful heart for the experience of being a Barbour Scholar and what such generous funding allowed them to achieve.
Dean Fierke was pleased to connect with these incredible women, tell them about the current Barbour Scholars on campus, present them with Barbour pins like the ones given to Scholars in the 1920s and 30s, and encourage them to return to Ann Arbor in October for the exciting events in honor of the Centennial Celebration. We are honored to be associated with such incredible women in such a special way, and we look forward to the next one hundred years of educational opportunities and global leadership.
The Pan-Asia Reunion, once again, proved to be a valuable experience for all who attended and held a special importance for Rackham alumni and staff. We look forward to next year’s event in Seoul!