Dalai Lama Scholars: Then and now
Current and former honorees discuss their service projects and subsequent accomplishments – and the award’s lasting influence.
We check in with Kathy Dong, Jasmine Fang and Armaan Rowther in advance of the Tibetan spiritual leader’s summer visit to campus.
UC Irvine’s XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship was established in 2004 after the Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel laureate visited the campus. Since then, 12 undergraduates have received the award in recognition of their commitment to ethical leadership, peace and positive global relations.
Current Dalai Lama Scholar Kathy Dong is leading a service project called Bridging Anteaters that matches students at Los Amigos High School in Fountain Valley with UCI mentors. Together, they explore compassion, mentorship, diversity, service leadership and college preparation.
“I hope to foster relationships between high school youths and university students so that they may gain a better sense of their identities – and build cooperation and compassion through shared experiences,” says Dong, a senior majoring in political science and sociology. “As university students, we can help these teens develop empathy and be motivated to give back to their communities and change their own lives.”
She received $10,000 from the XIV Dalal Lama Endowed Scholarship Fund and another $10,000 from Dalai Lama Fellows to fund her project.
UCI’s endowed scholarship was the first to be established in honor of the Dalai Lama, who will return to campus in July for a series of lectures and appearances marking his 80th birthday. Here, previous Dalai Lama Scholars discuss how the award shaped their worldview and strengthened their commitment to serving others.
Jasmine Fang, 2009-10 Dalai Lama Scholar
Where she is now: Fang, who graduated from UCI in 2010 with a degree in business economics, is a federal employee working on international travel programs and is enrolled in an evening MBA program at Georgetown University
Scholarship impact: “The Dalai Lama Scholarship and LiveKIND project have deepened my involvement in and understanding of giving back to the community,” Fang says. “Everyone has a niche, and my nonprofit work in Washington, D.C., is focused on Asian American affairs.
“Through the D.C. Mayor’s Office on Asian & Pacific Islander Affairs’ Project BUILD, I have provided complimentary consulting services to minority small businesses. An additional focus this year is further developing the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership, which seeks to create leaders and increase minorities in public service.
“The Dalai Lama strongly emphasizes compassion and kindness, and I have aimed to fully integrate and exude these qualities in my life.”
Armaan Rowther, 2011-12 Dalai Lama Scholar
Post-UCI: After graduating from UCI in 2013 with a degree in public health sciences, Rowther and his wife, Mehwish Shakeel, moved to Amman, Jordan, where they studied Arabic and Rowther completed public health research under a Fulbright grant and Critical Language Enhancement Award.
With the support of faculty mentors at the UCI School of Medicine and Department of Emergency Medicine, he collaborated with the Noor Al Hussein Foundation’s nonprofit Institute for Family Health to develop a computer-assisted diabetes risk assessment and education program for its medically vulnerable patient population, consisting mostly of Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi refugees.
The aim of his research was to create a model method for practicing proactive Type 2 diabetes prevention among urban refugees in the Middle East.
Where he is now: After 11 months in Jordan, Rowther and his wife moved to Maryland to begin graduate studies. Shakeel is currently completing a master’s degree in international affairs at The George Washington University, and Rowther is working toward both an M.D. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a Ph.D. in international health from the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
His clinical interest is emergency medicine, while his research interests center on combining epidemiology and the social and behavioral sciences to understand traumatic injury and violence as well as improve the health of communities affected by conflict, disaster or displacement, especially in postcolonial Muslim states across South Asia and the Middle East.
Scholarship impact: “The Dalai Lama Scholarship was absolutely integral to the path that has led me to where I am today,” Rowther says. “By supporting the grass-roots interfaith movement that came to be known as Leap of Faith, it sustained a vehicle of self-discovery and provided a platform for service learning that taught me, as well as numerous others who participated in Leap of Faith, an immense amount about the importance of humble understanding and interdependent collaboration across lines of difference.
“These principles of humility and interdependence were the most important lessons of my experience as a Dalai Lama Scholar and form the basis of my goals as a future physician-scientist in international health.”