Y. Ping Sun: A fruit­ful bridge be­tween the US and China

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICA - By MAY ZHOU in Houston mayzhou@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

In 1981, Y. Ping Sun was study­ing at Bei­jing Lan­guage and Cul­ture Univer­sity when she got ac­cepted to Prince­ton Univer­sity with a full schol­ar­ship.

“Along with the ac­cep­tance let­ter they also sent me a roundtrip air ticket,” Sun re­called.

Be­ing one of the first Chi­nese stu­dents ap­ply­ing to study abroad, get­ting gov­ern­men­tal ap­proval was not that easy.

“I have been al­ways been per­sis­tent,” she said. “So I went to the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion many times try­ing to con­vince them that study­ing abroad would equip me to make a greater con­tri­bu­tion to China.” Her per­sis­tence paid off and she was off to Prince­ton.

Sun, who is now univer­sity rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Rice Univer­sity, wife to Rice Pres­i­dent David Lee­bron, a full-time mother of two teenagers and a part-time lawyer, said: “Even though I now live in the US, I feel that I have not gone back on those words about con­tribut­ing to China.

“By per­form­ing the role I am in now, I am able to serve as a bridge be­tween peo­ple, help­ing peo­ple bet­ter un­der­stand China, and Chi­nese ed­u­ca­tors and stu­dents bet­ter un­der­stand the US.”

Born in Shang­hai and raised in Tian­jin, Sun was called “the girl from Red China” at Prince­ton when she first got there. “I was in­vited to a lot of fam­i­lies’ homes and re­al­ized that I was not only rep­re­sent­ing my­self, but I should also pro­mote Chi­nese cul­ture to Amer­i­cans.” Sun reg­u­larly per­formed tra­di­tional Chi­nese dances on In­ter­na­tional Day at Prince­ton.

Af­ter Prince­ton, Sun was ac­cepted at both NYU and Columbia law schools. Be­fore choos­ing, Sun went to see NYU law pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor for in­ter­na­tional stud­ies David Lee­bron. “He told me I would be the first PhD in law from China at NYU if I chose them,” she re­called.

Their first meet­ing left each with a fa­vor­able im­pres­sion of the other. Sun thought his name sounded fa­mil­iar and then re­al­ized she had cited one of his ar­ti­cles in her the­sis. In the end, Sun chose Columbia and while Lee­bron did not suc­ceed in re­cruit­ing Sun to NYU, he did suc­ceed in dat­ing her and mak­ing her his wife in 1990.

Sun was work­ing as a lawyer in New York when in 2004 her hus­band, who was by then dean of Columbia Law School, was of­fered the job of pres­i­dent of Rice Univer­sity in Houston.

“David asked me if he should take the po­si­tion, and I said joy­fully, ‘It’s time to have an ad­ven­ture!’”

Now 10 years later, Sun has made her­self thor­oughly at home in Houston and be­come a prom­i­nent mem­ber of the com­mu­nity. One of her many func­tions at Rice is to “give con­sul­ta­tion to fac­ulty mem­bers who have an in­ter­est in China”.

As a men­tor to stu­dents, Sun be­came so pop­u­lar she was elected home­com­ing queen in 2005.

In Novem­ber 2013, Rice was a co-host of the US-China Pres­i­dents Roundtable fo­rum in Chicago. In prepa­ra­tion, Sun and Lee­bron vis­ited Bei­jing in Oc­to­ber and were re­ceived by Vice-Pre­mier Liu Yan­dong.

“Vice-Pre­mier Liu was jok­ing that David and I are the per­fect ex­am­ple of a Sino-US re­la­tion­ship. David joked that the US makes too many com­pro­mises and I said if the US did what China says like David did, there would be no prob­lems at all,” Sun re­called with a laugh.

Sun’s role as a bridge has pro­duced re­sults. “When we came here in 2004, there was not a sin­gle stu­dent from China in the un­der­grad­u­ate pop­u­la­tion

I am not prac­tic­ing as much law as I used to. But what I do now im­pacts more peo­ple, es­pe­cially the work in the com­mu­nity.” Y. PING SUN UNIVER­SITY REP­RE­SEN­TA­TIVE OF RICE UNIVER­SITY

at Rice,” she said. “Last fall, of the 930 in­com­ing fresh­men, 88 are from China on stu­dent visas, not count­ing stu­dents from Hong Kong.”

In 2010, the Greater Houston Part­ner­ship named Sun and Lee­bron In­ter­na­tional Ex­ec­u­tives of the Year for their ef­forts to pro­mote Houston and Rice Univer­sity in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Out­side of Rice, Sun is a trus­tee of Texas Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, a board mem­ber of the Asia So­ci­ety Texas Center, St John’s School and the United Way of Greater Houston. She also serves on the ad­vi­sory boards of the Asian Cham­ber of Com­merce, the Chi­nese Com­mu­nity Center and the Houston Arts Al­liance. And the list goes on.

“I am not prac­tic­ing as much law as I used to,” she said, “but what I do now im­pacts more peo­ple, es­pe­cially the work in the com­mu­nity.”

Her en­gage­ment on that front has earned her nu­mer­ous awards, in­clud­ing the Asian Amer­i­can Lead­er­ship Award from the Asia So­ci­ety Texas Center, Woman on the Move by Texas Ex­ec­u­tive Women and one of the 50 Most In­flu­en­tial Women by Houston Women Mag­a­zine.

Sun con­sid­ers her­self a very driven and de­ter­mined per­son, and she sum­ma­rizes the se­cret to her suc­cess as the three Ps: pas­sion, prepa­ra­tion and per­se­ver­ance.

On be­ing a full-time mother to her son Daniel, 17, and daugh­ter Mer­risa, 14, Sun said jok­ingly, “I am an Asian tiger mom. They can speak Chi­nese, and they play pi­ano.”

Sun said she has

al­ways en­cour­aged her kids to learn their roots and share their Chi­nese cul­ture with fel­low Amer­i­cans be­cause “more shar­ing brings more un­der­stand­ing which makes the world a bet­ter place”.

“I also took my chil­dren to a food bank to vol­un­teer be­cause I wanted them to see how for­tu­nate they are,” she said. “As a re­sult, both chil­dren are now vol­un­teers serv­ing the com­mu­nity.”


Y. Ping Sun, univer­sity rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Rice Univer­sity, has acted as a bridge to en­hance ed­u­ca­tion ex­changes be­tween Houston and China.

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