Cornell University: Alumni gift supports doctoral students in the humanities

A $5 million alumni gift will help to support doctoral students in humanities fields within the College of Arts and Sciences.

The Zhu Family Graduate Fellowships in the Humanities will recognize and support a select group of high-potential graduate students in their fourth or fifth years, enabling them to focus on their research and complete their dissertations, free from teaching obligations.

“Our humanities graduate students are curious, creative and passionate, conducting vital research that engages with the complexity of our rapidly changing world,” said Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts & Sciences. “We are grateful to the Zhu family for their gift responding to the pressing need to position these emerging scholars for success at Cornell and beyond.”

Cornell is renowned for its humanities departments, Jayawardhana said, adding that significant recent investments in the College – such as numerous faculty recruitments, the Humanities Scholars program, Klarman Fellowships, New Frontier Grants and public engagement efforts – have further elevated their stature and impact.

Jonathan Zhu, J.D. ’92, and Ruby Ye, M.S. ’90, Ph.D. ’92, created the gift to benefit Cornell and strengthen an already strong humanities program.

“I first came to Cornell in 1985, on an A.D. White fellowship to study English literature with professor M.H. Abrams,” Zhu said during a Dec. 14 meeting with department chairs. “My time at the College of Arts and Sciences in the English program left an indelible mark. It got me to really appreciate literacy, not in the narrow sense of being able to read and write, but in the broader sense – an appreciation of language, an appreciation of what language brings, understanding of the human condition, of human relationships, of the human experience and the social and historical context for these experiences.

“So I’ve always felt, and I’ve always told my children when they came to Cornell, how great it is to take time to learn and study the humanities, because they really teach us about ourselves.”

Zhu is managing director of Bain Capital and has been a volunteer leader for more than a decade at Cornell, on the School of Law Advisory Council, the China Advisory Board and the Board of Trustees. Though Zhu originally came to Cornell to pursue a doctorate in English literature, his interests changed, and he earned his J.D. at Cornell Law School. Ye studied chemistry and biochemistry, earning master’s and doctoral degrees.

“The generosity of the Zhu family will propel the careers of graduate students for decades to come, while elevating the humanities scholarship in the college,” Jayawardhana said. “We are so very thankful for their commitment to Cornell.”