First NYU Shanghai Student Awarded Knight-Hennessy Fellowship

shirley zhao
Mar 6 2019

Stanford University announced March 5 that it has awarded Shirley Zhao ’19  (赵雪涵 ’19) a Knight-Hennessy fellowship. Zhao, one of 68 students selected from a global pool of more than 4,400 applicants, is the first NYU Shanghai student to earn the prestigious award.  She is also this year's only Chinese winner.  

A Global China Studies major and native of Chengdu, Sichuan, Zhao will join the second group of scholars to be selected for the fellowship program, which was launched in 2016 by Nike co-founder Phil Knight and former Stanford President John Hennessy to bring together high-achieving future global leaders and provide them with the community and academic foundation they will need to effect positive change around the world.  

The Knight-Hennessy, the largest fully-endowed graduate fellowship in the world, provides scholars with full tuition, room, board, and other fellowship-based workshops and activities as they pursue graduate degrees at Stanford.

Zhao, who will pursue a Master’s in East Asian Studies, said she was thrilled to hear the news and excited at the prospect of learning alongside other top scholars with whom she already feels a strong bond after her initial visit to Stanford.

“[The fellowship] is really consistent with the way that I’ve disciplined myself to always hit the highest academic standing as a student, to commit yourself fully to every work, every book you’re reading,” Zhao said.  “To take the best advantages to make yourself stand out, but at the same time this so-called selfishness is not self-centered. There’s a greater good that I’m concerned about.”

Zhao said she plans to focus her studies at Stanford on Chinese history and Sino-Japanese relations.  “As a Global China Studies major, I had always felt that my study of China was missing a Japanese point of view,” Zhao said. “So I decided to spend my junior year at Waseda University (Tokyo), studying the shared history between China and Japan as well as contemporary relations between the two nations while intensively studying Japanese.”   

Choosing to spend her junior year in Japan, instead of at another NYU campus or Study Away Center, was an unconventional choice, Zhao said, but it paid off.  “Looking back, I could still feel a little bit of uncertainty because no one else was doing that, but I convinced myself that what I was passionate about was what I wanted to explore,” she said. “So I followed my heart and it turned out I really found the greater mission that I want to pursue.”

Zhao said she hopes to work in the future on expanding communication between Japan and China and building mutual trust among people.

NYU Shanghai Provost Joanna Waley-Cohen, who taught Zhao in two courses, Concept of China and China Encounters the World, said she was confident Zhao would make a difference in her chosen field. “She has the intellectual heft and the broad-mindedness to be able to draw connections together and produce new ideas and to think of things in a productive way.”   

Waley-Cohen said she wasn’t surprised to hear that Zhao had been named a Knight Hennessy Fellow as she has shown a “strong streak of community leadership and service” from her earliest days on campus. Outside of class, Zhao has thrown herself into the XLS Dance Community and worked as a research assistant at the university’s Center for Global Asia.

Zhao said she credits NYU Shanghai with preparing her for the future.

“I really enjoy this open environment where we can speak up and enjoy the possibilities of NYU Shanghai,” she said. “I had this whole space to set up the clubs that I wanted to set up, make the connections that I wanted to make. It was a good chance to grow with the school and with my peers. It was also such a special and grateful experience to work closely with all my professors and mentors.”

Waley-Cohen said she hopes that Zhao’s accomplishments show others all that NYU Shanghai has to offer.

“It’s enormously affirming for us as an institution to see that our students are up there with some of the best students in the world,” Waley-Cohen said. “And for our students, I think it’s tough to be a pioneer, so if somebody’s paved the way for you it’s a wonderful thing.”

As NYU Shanghai students continue to achieve across the globe, Director of Global Awards Anna Kathryn Kendrick said she encourages top students across all disciplines to take advantage of the resources her office has available to help students pursue opportunities like Zhao’s.

“I hope that Shirley’s success can ignite excitement among other students, the inspiration that this is actually possible -- because it is,” Kendrick said.