Committed to UT and its progress

May 17th, 2018 Posted in From Our Alumni
Alumnus J.J. Dai leads supportive efforts among Chinese graduates of UT

By Laurie B. Davis

J.J. Dai speaks at the October 2016 reception held to celebrate the establishment of the Chinese Alumni Outstanding Chinese Student Scholarship Fund and the reunion of the alumni who funded it.

A close-knit group of alumni, which has been dedicated to promoting The University of Toledo, raised nearly $40,000 for an endowed scholarship and helped to start an alumni chapter in Shanghai, China. J.J. Dai (Eng PhD ’95) began leading these efforts in 2013, working with friends from his days spent on the UT campus as a doctoral student in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“I did take on the leadership because someone needed to take on the responsibility to get others to join the effort and accomplish the mission,” he says of the group’s fundraising for the Chinese Alumni Outstanding Chinese Student Scholarship Fund. “But I really want to give credit to all of the people who participated as funding members,” says Dai.

“We have a close group of friends from UT. Some stayed in the U.S. Some moved back to China after graduation. Some have been working for U.S. companies for a number of years,” says Dai, a business manager who works for Eaton Corp., a power management company that does business in more than 175 countries. The company specializes in energy efficiency and sustainability, providing management of electrical, hydraulic and mechanical power. Previously, for 21 years, Dai worked for Operation Technology, Inc., a computer software developer and consulting firm in California.

“I have been with Eaton since 2013 and was assigned to Shanghai as a business director, so I had more opportunity to talk with alumni in Shanghai,” he says. “We started to talk about the older days at UT, and we said we should do something for our University, because the University gave us knowledge and helped us develop our skills and provided us the opportunity, and eventually a successful career,” says Dai of the motivation behind setting up the scholarship fund.

President Sharon L. Gaber speaks at an event to mark the creation of a Chinese student scholarship by a group of alumni who were enrolled during the late 1980s and early 1990s at UT.

“We said, ‘what if we donate some money to the University,’ and then we contacted the University and we found out that probably the best way is to create a fund to generate an award of scholarship and encourage some students like us, Chinese students, who for the first time are studying in the United States and facing a lot of challenges,” such as the cultural differences that international students often encounter.

Dai and his friends shared their interest in giving back to the University with Sammy Spann, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and Xinren Yu, international programs coordinator in the Office of International Studies and Programs. “We met to discuss the requirements for the scholarship in 2015.

Dai then contacted the University of Toledo Foundation for more detailed instruction and a fund was placed online to begin accepting donations. “Then we tried to drive this effort among the people we know, and by word of mouth we were able to get more people” says Dai.

About 30 Chinese alumni helped to fund the scholarship, he says. “This was accomplished during our reunion in October 2016. We formally signed an agreement, we met the University president and provost and other officers. I know the first award was granted to two outstanding students last year.”

One of the criteria for students to apply for the scholarship is that they are enrolled full-time at UT. It is awarded to students based on their academic standing and their contributions to the University and the Chinese community. The first year the scholarship was offered, they received seven applications from both undergraduate and graduate students. Two $750 scholarships were awarded in 2017. Students are informed about the award through the Chinese Student Association at UT.  

A dozen of the nearly 30 Chinese UT alumni, who reunited on campus in October 2016, pose with the former dean of engineering, Nagi Naganathan, who also served as interim president preceding President Sharon L. Gaber’s administration.

“I think the idea we really want for branding this is that it’s not just about the money. It is showing, No. 1, how we care about the University as a group of alumni who were educated there,” says Dai. “Secondly, we really want to attract interest and attention from new students to come to UT and compete and challenge themselves. The award is showing our support and endorsement of UT. It symbolizes the importance of education and success for the next generation of students.”

Dai describes his time at UT as a very positive experience. “I think the University provides a very friendly environment for international students. We can settle down very easily with our neighbors. On the academic side, our professors are very knowledgeable to teach us. Labs, classrooms, libraries, the student union, the recreation center, all the facilities are just excellent. We feel this is our home. The people we meet, the American students or international students, we can all merge together as the same student body, and we share the knowledge and experience about our different cultures and history. We don’t feel any obstacles to fit in. I think this is very important to international students being so far away from their home country,” says Dai.

Dai says his experience and those of his friends are memorable and have become a fulfilling part of their lives. “We not only studied, but we gained experience and learned how to socialize with people, we learn American culture, history, the law, which prepared us to meet the challenges after school in the job market.

“Everyone I know— I’m talking about the Chinese student body, alone—everyone has been so successful. Either they stayed in the U.S. to get a job and promoted, and to start a family and raise their kids.” Many, he says, already have children and grandchildren. 

Dai attributes their successes to the experiences and education they were able to obtain at UT.

J.J. Dai poses with University of Toledo Provost Andrew Hsu at the October 2016 reception that marked a reunion of Dai and his former classmates, who raised money for the Chinese Alumni Outstanding Chinese Student Scholarship Fund.

“That actually is the root of why we created the scholarship because we learned and we got so much from the University, so we thought we should do the minimum to pay it back. And to tell the new students who are choosing a university to study abroad and come to the U.S., that this is the right place.”

When Dai, who now is based in California, was working in Shanghai, he would meet casually with his fellow alumni of UT, and they would discuss the ways in which they could help UT recruit students from China. There now is a Shanghai Chapter of the UT Alumni Association that gathers and communicates regularly. Their goal, he says, is to spread the word about the education Chinese students can obtain at UT and create a pipeline of new students.

“We want to continue and grow the alumni chapter in China. We share the same experience and the general ideas. We want to reach out to more alumni who have recently graduated. He says their goal is to obtain contact information for new Chinese graduates of UT to bring in more people to participate. “That would be a very important asset for us. There are hundreds of Chinese students there, and they are so happy to do something for UT,” says Dai.  

Dai believes the creation of the Chinese student scholarship has built a strong bridge between Chinese alumni and UT that will maintain the connection, and he hopes other international students will consider the same kind of support once they graduate.

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