As Jessica Yan chipped away at her application for a scholarship, she reflected on the reasons why she wanted an award that would take her to China as part of a year-long master’s program.
The words for the essay she was required to write came easily because they were part of a story that she knew all too well. The words were part of her story — a story she believes in.
“I really believe in the work that I’m doing,” Yan said. “I think a lot of times it’s just a leap of faith. You have to believe in yourself and try as best as you can.”
Yan, 24, a University of Colorado Boulder alumna, is a 2022-2023 Schwarzman Scholarship recipient. She is the second CU Boulder student to be awarded the scholarship and was one of 150 scholars chosen out of 3,000 applicants worldwide.
“Jessica showed herself to be an exemplary student and a natural leader here at CU Boulder,” said CU Boulder Provost Russell Moore in a news release. “Our university community is honored by her incredible achievement and excited to see what possibilities she will realize as a Schwarzman Scholar.”
The Schwarzman Scholarship was inspired by the Rhodes Scholarship, which was founded in 1902, according to the website. It started in 2015 and accepts 200 scholars annually from the U.S., China and other countries to a one-year master’s degree program in global affairs at Beijing‘s Tsinghua University.
Yan was initially called from a phone number with a New York area code in November. She ignored it, but when a second call came, she answered. On the line was the associate director of the Schwarzman Scholarship who told Yan she had won the scholarship, Yan said.
For Yan, it was a surreal, movie-like moment.
“I wasn’t dressed,” she said. “I was just wearing my pajamas, and I think I just immediately started crying. I was so grateful, and I called my sister right after.”
Yan studied business administration at CU Boulder and graduated in 2019. She said focused her time at the university on health and gender equity work. She interned at the governor’s office, where she worked on creating equitable access to health care for Colorado residents.
Through her current job at Redstone Strategy Group and her previous roles, Yan said she has learned a lot about the importance of philanthropy and how it is used to support many programs like health care.
“I think that’s the thing that connects everything throughout my entire, and I think there’s a lot of pieces that come together,” she said.
Although she was born in the U.S., Yan said her parents are originally from southern China. Besides one study abroad trip to China in 2018, she has not spent a lot of time in the country.
In Colorado, she did not grow up around many people from Asia. Regardless of how diverse the state is, the work still matters and needs to be done to ensure everyone — regardless of their background — can have both a happy and healthy life, Yan said.
“I think I’ve learned so much about the space of social impact and how you actually create positive change in a very tangible way,” she said.
“That’s really what I focused my application (for the scholarship) on — how do you learn different approaches for different cultures to advance social impact, especially in China where philanthropy is rapidly growing?”