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