Students Today: Global Leaders Tomorrow

Schwarzman Scholars is an internationally renowned scholarship program that allows selected students to enroll in Tsinghua University under Schwarzman College. The one year master’s program is free of charge and grants students education to three core classes in English, the opportunity to learn Mandarin for non-native speakers, and a mentorship program which connects Chinese business leaders and politicians with scholars. In an interview following an executive seminar with Dr. Robert Garris of Schwarzman Scholars, I had the opportunity to ask about the program.

The Schwarzman Scholars program is cost-free, in order to attract leadership qualities with no regard to financial means. Modeled on the Rhodes Scholarship, the program attracts students at the top of their class from around the world with a trajectory towards global leadership. However, Dr. Garris explains that the difference between Rhodes and its Peking University counterpart, Yenching, is that Schwarzman Scholars focuses more on “cohort learning” rather than solely on individualized learning. Additionally, Schwarzman is focused towards more professional development, in addition to the research project required of all Schwarzman Scholars.

In terms of the selection process, Schwarzman Scholars focuses on leadership qualities: namely, perseverance, risk-taking, academic excellence, and initiative. Interestingly, Schwarzman Scholars does not only take students with Chinese background — such as past cultural immersion or language skills. Instead, Schwarzman Scholars focuses on students with a trajectory towards international leadership — believing that, in order to be world leaders, students must be able to leverage a deeper understanding of China.

However, because the scholarship accepts people without Chinese background, I grew curious as to how the program integrates students that have not already been introduced to the Chinese ecosystem — namely, using Chinese social media outlets as well as payment methods. Dr. Garris describes that this transition period actually helps develop bonds between those with Chinese backgrounds and those without Chinese backgrounds because it fosters peer to peer learning. In conversation over why Chinese leaders invest their time into the scholars, Dr. Garris explains that giving back to university-affiliated students is a long-time tradition of a strong alumni network at Tsinghua. When asked about why Tsinghua and China opted to open up to an international college within its borders, Dr. Garris explained that it is part of a bigger trend of China’s recognition of playing a global role. He references the Belt and Road Initiative, AIIB, and shifts in China’s education system goals.

Dr. Garris’ knowledge of both China and elite education is incredibly profound and his ability to represent the program helps with its global appeal. As the Head of Admission of the program, I asked him what lessons he has learned from his past experience in selecting candidates, and with incredible humility, he reflected upon his past with a globalized philosophy: “To not assume that we know all of the answers to what leadership looks like to different professions and parts of the world. My experience at Columbia and Rockefeller was very much about networking and asking people who know, rather than making the answer up on my own.”