Two University students receive prestigious scholarships to study at Peking University

Wednesday, February 7, 2018 - 1:58pm

This week, the University of Michigan’s Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships announced Public Policy senior Gabriel Lerner and LSA alum Megan Cansfield as scholars of Yenching Academy’s 2018 fellowship program, which sponsors students through a two-year master’s degree of China Studies at Peking University in Beijing, China.

The program brings together 150 students from around the world. Students spend the first year of the program studying and participating in fieldwork focused on Chinese history, culture and development. Students spend the second year working outside of the classroom while they develop their theses.

Yenching Academy offers six research areas on which students can focus. Public Policy senior Gabriel Lerner, who will enroll in the Academy in August, will be concentrating on economics and management. Lerner said he looks forward to understanding income inequality from a Chinese perspective.

“Income inequality is something that through my Michigan education really stood out to me,” Lerner said. “China is also facing incredible income inequality, which can lead to political instability and social unrest. So my hope is to go to China, study inequality there and see if there are lessons that can be learned from China about how to tackle income inequality back in the United States after the program.”

For Lerner, the move to China is daunting, but he is enthusiastic for the challenge of living in a new country and learning a new language.

“(I am) mostly incredibly excited,” Lerner said. “I am nervous because I haven’t been exposed to Chinese culture or Chinese language, but I couldn’t be more excited to be spending the next year or so around people who are passionate about learning more about how China’s, economy, government and culture function,” Lerner said.

Both Lerner and Henry Dyson, the director of the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships, discussed the global implications of Yenching Academy and the Schwarzman scholars program. The Schwarzman scholars, similar to Yenching Academy, provides students with a master’s degree program in Global Affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing. They also both likened the programs to the Rhodes Scholars program as it allows students to build international relationships.

Dyson stated the University has had six scholars receive the Yenching Academy scholarship over the last four years. He compared Peking University to the Ivy League schools in America and discussed the opportunities available with a degree from such a prestigious school.

“While Peking is building an international cohort, the real benefit of it is having a Peking University degree and the doors that opens, especially if you want to work in China or work for Chinese firms,” Dyson said.

Cansfield triple majored in International Studies, Political Science and Asian Studies during her undergraduate study at the University. She is currently living in Beijing on a Fulbright fellowship. Dyson said Cansfield hopes to work on international diplomacy with a focus on China in either the State Department or at a Chinese think tank.

“I am very grateful for the incredible opportunities the Yenching Academy will offer to broaden my understanding of China and its evolving global identity,” Cansfield wrote in an email interview. “I look forward to delving deeper into specialized study of China’s foreign policy through the program’s unique learning environment combining Chinese and international perspectives from classmates of diverse backgrounds and nationalities. Ultimately, I hope to build on my experience at Yenching by continuing to engage with China and promote international cooperation through a diplomatic career as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer.”

Dyson also discussed his pride and excitement for the both Lerner and Cansfield in regard to their accomplishments and their future endeavors. He described Cansfield as a China expert and elaborated on Gabriel’s ability to maximize his opportunities given to him. 

“I think they are really interesting candidates,” Dyson said. “On the one hand how focused and prepared Megan is, and on the other hand how diverse and expansive Gabriel is in the different types of opportunities he’s pursued while, of course, being excellent at each of them.”

While elated at the accomplishments of the University’s Yenching Academy scholars, he is frustrated the University still has not had a Schwarzman scholar.

“It drives me crazy that we haven’t broken through with Schwarzman scholars … ” Dyson said. “So I am really excited to maintain the fantastic relationship we have with Yenching while making the push to the next level to recruit some of our very best students to take advantage of the Schwarzman scholars opportunity.”