Wanying He, Class of 2022, named DKU‘s first Schwarzman Scholar

By DKU Staff

Wanying He, a senior in Duke Kunshan’s inaugural undergraduate class, has become the first student from DKU to be named a Schwarzman Scholar.

One of the world’s most selective fellowship awards, the Schwarzman Scholars program supports young leaders from China, the United States and around the globe to study at the state-of-the-art Schwarzman College campus at Tsinghua University, Beijing. Students are selected for their leadership potential, entrepreneurial spirit, and desire to understand other cultures.

Scholars develop leadership skills through a funded one-year master’s degree in global affairs, with specializations in economics, international studies, or public policy. Classes are taught in English and will begin in August 2022.

Wanying He, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in data science next summer, is among 151 scholars chosen from nearly 3,000 applicants worldwide to join the seventh class of Schwarzman Scholars. Also among the scholars are two Duke University seniors: Jessie Xu and Jessica Edelson.

“I am very excited to be joining this program,” said Wanying He. “I’ve already met a lot of Schwarzman alumni and current students, and I’ve found it to be a very welcoming community.”

Data science major Wanying He has conducted research on topics across the natural and applied sciences, social sciences, and the humanities at DKU. Photo by Tom Zhang ’23

As the Schwarzman Scholars program accepts students age 18 to 28, she said she is looking forward to studying alongside not only fresh graduates with the same interdisciplinary and exploratory spirit but also classmates with rich work experience in government, industry, academia and NGOs. The new cohort, whose members come from 33 countries, includes a delegate to the latest United Nations General Assembly, several candidates on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, tech entrepreneurs, and an award-winning journalist.

“Students come from distinctive backgrounds, and some will have worked for four, five years and have a clear career trajectory and goal,” said Wanying He. “The unique experience of studying and living alongside these outstanding peers will expose me to diverse opinions and help form deep connections.”

Championing interdisciplinarity

Wanying He, from Liuyang city in Hunan province, China, has championed interdisciplinary collaboration throughout her liberal arts education at Duke Kunshan. Alongside her data science studies, her research and extracurricular activities have seen her take deep dives into topics across natural and applied sciences, social sciences, and the humanities.

She is founding co-director of the DKU Interdisciplinary Knowledge Network Lab, a project co-sponsored by the Humanities Research Center (HRC) and Data Science Research Center that investigates knowledge architecture, meta-knowledge, epistemology, and other areas. She recruited students and faculty from multiple disciplines to develop research projects around the theme of knowledge as a network. She also has led teams to map, visualize and analyze the patterns of knowledge produced and shared at DKU, and trained the next generation of student researchers who will continue the initiative.

“Wanying’s mission is to re-describe the boundaries of disciplinary knowledge,” said James Miller, professor of humanities, who is director of the HRC and co-director of the lab. “She possesses a stunning intellectual breadth that allows her to understand what she knows and what she does not know, to understand the capabilities of her methods and their limits. I have never seen such a degree of intellectual self-awareness.”

Before establishing the lab, Wanying He conducted research on education policy, artificial intelligence-driven marketing, and global health. In 2021, PLOS Medicine published a paper on genetic and behavioral risk factors for cognitive impairment that she co-authored with researchers from DKU, Duke University, the University of Melbourne, and MindRank AI.

“My interdisciplinary experience at DKU has made me a firm believer that intellectual breadth and depth could augment each other,” she said. “While working on research that revealed even chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s could become ‚Äòinfectious’ by passing unhealthy behavior through social networks, I understood firsthand that complex problems cannot be addressed adequately by segmented thinking; only the best-connected people and knowledge can manage them sustainably.”

Wanying He addresses members of the DKU Advisory Board and classmates in 2019

Since 2020, Wanying He has served as co-president of the annual Duke China-U.S. Summit, which invites expert speakers to discuss issues and challenges related to Sino-American collaboration. This year, the virtual summit attracted a global audience of more than 500.

She is also co-president of Konnect Students Across Campuses (KSAC), a student organization that fosters engagement among undergraduates at DKU and at Duke’s campus in Durham, North Carolina.

“Wanying is so well suited for the Schwarzman Scholars program not only because of her outstanding academic achievements but because she is so relationally driven in her leadership with KSAC, and building bridges between DKU and Duke,” said Christopher Van Velzer, director of global education. “The theme of connecting diverse cultures, people and ideas runs through her research and her direct involvement as a student, and this embodies the kind of interdisciplinary, globally minded work that we hope to see come from students at DKU, to make a difference in the complex problems of the future.”

Magnetic energy

After her Schwarzman year, Wanying He plans to pursue her interest in interdisciplinary education and research policy, with aspirations to become a scholar in the emerging area of meta-knowledge.

“Intercultural exchange has been an overarching theme in my life, and I think I will continue to work in spaces that act as melting pots of ideas, backgrounds and cultures. I love these places, they have a magnetic energy,” she said. “The experience at DKU has really shaped me as a person. Many think you need to study abroad to get an international experience, but through my day-to-day interaction with international students, faculty and staff members, I feel I have become international from within China.”

Senior leaders have sent their congratulations to Wanying He and expressed their deep pride in her receiving this prestigious fellowship award.

“I cannot think of anyone who better fits the Schwarzman Scholars’ mission to ‚Äòbuild a global community of future leaders who will serve to deepen understanding between China and the rest of the world’ than Wanying,” said Marcia France, dean of undergraduate studies. “Over the past three and half years, she has fully embraced all that DKU has to offer, ranging from serving on the Diversity and Inclusion Board to helping found the Interdisciplinary Knowledge Network Lab and co-leading the Duke China-U.S. Summit. I have no doubt she will contribute as much to the Schwarzman program and Tsinghua University as she has to DKU.”

Scott MacEachern, vice chancellor for academic affairs, said, “We could not be more proud of Wanying, an outstanding student who represents not only the high caliber of our inaugural undergraduate class but also DKU’s interdisciplinary spirit. This award is testament to her continuing and successful efforts to collaborate with peers across cultures, borders and disciplines, and to the rich opportunities and unswerving support offered by our faculty and staff. We hope that her accomplishments can inspire others to strive for similar success and to make similar contributions to society.”

DKU Chancellor Youmei Feng said, “We are delighted for Wanying, who has been a consistently outstanding member of our inaugural undergraduate class. Her successes, and those of other students, stand as testament to DKU’s international, innovative liberal arts education, which like the Schwarzman program aims to cultivate future leaders with global perspectives who are equipped with intellect and character to meet the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. I hope that more DKU students will follow Wanying’s example in developing critical thinking, cross-cultural understanding and global leadership, to blaze their own path and make important contributions to world development.”

Related story: Ege Kaan Duman, Class of 2022, becomes DKU’s first Rhodes Scholar

See a full list of the Schwarzman Scholars Class of 2023

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