Across continents: Chinese alumni still appreciate ISU’s open door
Larry Chen, M.S. ’73, was among the earliest of cohorts to participate in Illinois State’s first formal international student program. Undeterred then by the thought of living 7,500 miles from his home in China to complete a graduate degree in business, Chen is confident yet today that he made the right decision.
He expressed his thanks for the opportunity last fall when he joined nearly two dozen alumni from Taiwan in President Larry Dietz’s conference room to recount their collegiate days and express how the University changed their lives. The graduates also presented a check for $100,000 to fund a new scholarship titled In Appreciation of ISU.
Chen became emotional as he expressed his gratitude to his alma mater. The Shanghai-based businessman was the president of the Chinese Student Association. Beyond advancing academically and personally through campus involvement, Chen met his future wife at Illinois State. Judy (Fu), M.A. ’73, was a graduate student in psychology.
“I have so many memories from my experience here. We journeyed from the other side of the Pacific Ocean to come to ISU and get our advanced degrees. There were so many people here who helped us,” Chen said.
The Chinese alumni initially arrived from Taiwan in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They received full-tuition waivers funded by state grants.
“Without that support, none of us would’ve been able to earn our degrees and prepare ourselves for our professions and the world,” said Anna Wei, M.S. ’73, who is a realtor in California. She organized efforts to start the scholarship.
“I’d like to thank our alma matter and the Illinois taxpayers for their support. Some of us live in the states, some of us have gone back to Taiwan, and some of us live in other countries of the world,” Wei said. “It’s the education we received from ISU that prepared us to become worldly, productive citizens.”
Dietz connected the alumni’s donation and experiences to current campus efforts to expand Illinois State’s imprint internationally.
“We’re very, very grateful and humbled by the gift, but also of your remembrance of your experience here at ISU,” he said. “Our international initiative is one that we plan to expand dramatically over the next several years. We want other individuals like you from other countries to come to ISU and experience what you experienced here.”
The scholarship ceremony was very emotional for the alumni. Most, if not all, were returning to campus for the first time in more than 40 years. They had fond memories of their time at Illinois State, commenting on how their host families helped them adapt to life in a foreign land and how strange American food seemed to them at the time. For example, they had never eaten cheese before arriving in the United States.
The alumni credited former Assistant Dean of Students Robert Murley with bringing them to ISU. He began the international program under then President Samuel Braden as the University evolved from a teachers college to a multidisciplinary university.
Braden hoped to provide opportunity to international students and new perspectives to local ones. As part of that effort, the University opened in the fall of 1970 the International House, which Murley called at the time “a unique experiment in international education.”
“The International House will provide an opportunity to students to meet contemporaries from other nations and to participate and learn through informal social, cultural, and educational programs,” Murley said.
His statement predicted what the Chinese cohort experienced. The students from Taiwan composed the largest segment of ISU’s new international students, though there were students from India and other countries as well. They came to Illinois State for advanced degrees in business, education, science and other fields.
The In Appreciation of ISU scholarship will provide $5,000 to two Illinois State students each year. It is open to undergraduate or graduate students who have a financial need and a 3.0 GPA. The initial recipients were Jaylee Hall, a bachelor of science/master of professional accountancy major from Peoria; and Nathaniel Palmquist, a recreation management major from Loves Park.
Hall said the scholarship will ease her financial burden, providing more time and energy to focus on her studies.
“I work two—soon to be three—jobs over the summer and during the school year to help pay for school and living expenses. Sometimes I’m so exhausted. I feel so honored and lucky to get this scholarship,” she said.
“My scholarship is more than money: It’s an extra hour of sleep on Sunday night, a higher letter grade on my next exam, and it’s me graduating in December of 2020,” Hall said. “I fully plan on passing this kindness forward in the future.”
The In Appreciation of ISU gift supports Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State. The $150 million fundraising initiative’s objectives are to bolster scholarship, leadership and innovation.