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UCLA students in the JRI summer research program in front of Weiming Lake on the Peking University campus. (Photo courtesy of JRI.)

Gift creates scholarship endowment for popular JRI summer research program in China

The endowment will enable one UCLA sciences and/or engineering undergraduate student to participate in a three-month research program in China.

UCLA International Institute, April 23, 2019 — A recent generous gift of $75,000 to the PKU (Peking University)-UCLA Joint Research Institute (JRI) in Science and Engineering has created the Gene and Sharon Chang Centennial Scholars Fund for Summer Research in China. UCLA has made a matching contribution of $37,500 under the Chancellor's Centennial Scholars Matching Initiative, bringing the total value of the fund to $112,500.

The endowment will fund one scholarship each year for an undergraduate UCLA student to participate in JRI’s summer research program at Peking University in China.

Gene and Sharon Chang. (Photo courtesy of the Changs.) Gene and Sharon Chang are long-time supporters of JRI; they previously gifted the institute $20,000 for student scholarships for the same program. The new endowment will generate continuing income for undergraduate scholarships.

“JRI is a great program! It's important for talented young scientists to get a global experience and develop a global vision, especially in today's time,” said Gene Chang. “This is what makes JRI unique.”

The 12-week JRI summer program offers undergraduate and graduate UCLA students an opportunity to gain invaluable research and cultural experience in China. Participants in the program study Chinese for at least one quarter at UCLA before they depart for China and continue their Chinese studies throughout the summer. They start with a two-week immersive language and cultural program at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, followed by 10 weeks at Peking University, where they work on a research project at a PKU lab under the guidance of a faculty mentor.

For many of these science and engineering undergraduates — who typically do not attend “year abroad” programs — it is their first international experience. To date, 112 students have participated in the program, now in operation for 10 years.

Bruins’ experiences in the program have been overwhelmingly positive. Mercedes Cornelius participated in the 2018 summer program as a fourth-year student in biophysics, applied mathematics and biochemistry. Reflecting on her experience, she said, “I don’t think that I could understand China, the Chinese people, or how to merge into either of the two without the social experience of the program in Shanghai and Beijing. And the scholarship I received to help me in China completely enriched my studies. It allowed me to be able to afford my dreams and enjoy/learn from the culture around me; I am immensely thankful.”

Building at Peking University (PKU) that houses the PKU offices of the  PKU-UCLA Joint Research Institute.
(Photo courtesy of JRI.)

Richard Liang, a fourth-year UCLA student in physiological science major, also participated in the summer 2018 program. He noted, “Conducting research in China has helped me understand the importance of considering different social and cultural contexts in relation to health. I learned from amazing mentors, had a lot of fun with my fellow JRI cohort members and gained a newfound appreciation for the Beijing Metro. I am so thankful for the inspiring people I had the privilege of meeting in Shanghai and Beijing and for the unforgettable experiences provided by JRI.”

It is perhaps not surprising that Gene J. Chang is himself a graduate of Peking University, where he studied atmospheric physics. An enthusiastic alumnus, he has served as both the president and a member of the board of directors of the Peking University Alumni Association of Southern California. Chang is also a graduate of University of San Francisco (B.A., physics and computer engineering) and Columbia University (M.B.A.). He is the president of JC Research & Consulting, Inc., an equity research and investment consulting firm in Diamond Bar, California, which he founded in 2006.