Why We Give

Why We GiveThe Why We Give series highlights the various reasons why members of the Shanghai American School community give back to the school. Whether it’s annual giving, giving to special projects, or first-time giving, hear from parents, alumni, faculty, and staff to learn why giving to SAS is important.

Why We Give

Alex T. Zhang ’12: Why I Give Back to my Alma Mater

Alex T Zhang '12

Alex Terry Zhang is a member of SAS Pudong’s class of 2012. Growing up in Indiana and moving to Shanghai in 2008, Zhang spent his high school years at Shanghai American School. Not only was studying at SAS a unique experience that offered him a foot in many doors, Zhang has had numerous conversations that began with ‘You attended SAS?’ which have presented opportunities and sparked exchanges that have added value to his life.

When Zhang thinks back on his time at SAS, he shares, “I remember working on the school yearbook with Mrs. Nakai for three years and taking AP courses with teachers who cultivated intellectual curiosity. I remember WORD Magazine, We Design, quiz bowl, table tennis, and countless other extracurricular activities. However, my fondest memories were those shared with my classmates and spent learning from their diversity of thought and experiences.”

After graduating from SAS, Zhang pursued his undergraduate studies at New York University where he majored in Statistics and Finance. His major at NYU paved his way to a job at investment bank Rothschild where Zhang worked within their restructuring division. In 2017, he received an offer to work as an associate at Athyrium Capital, where he remains to this day. At Athyrium, Zhang helps all kinds of healthcare companies – including diagnostics, biotech, services, and others – find both debt and equity capital so that they can fund their scientific innovations. “I have loved it so far and can really see myself making a career out of healthcare investing,” he shares.

When asked what motivates his giving, Zhang answers through a personal promise he made himself, “I pledged to give back to those who have helped me become the person I am today.” Zhang elaborates, “I wanted to show my gratitude for the environment and people that SAS brought into my life.”

So, what does philanthropy mean to him? “To me, philanthropy means enabling others so that they can focus more on what matters to them. Significant external circumstances determine our success and how our lives are shaped. For example, the people I met at SAS were caring and enabled me to develop a strong sense of introspection and responsibility that has defined my life for the better. Philanthropy is supporting such external forces so that others can enable themselves as well.”

Zhang is greatly involved in SAS alumni activities and has attended the last three annual New York alumni events. For him, it’s important to reconnect with old acquaintances and to meet other alumni, “the sense of community that SAS actively tries to cultivate is very special. I think Brittany Haney and the rest of the Alumni Relations team do a phenomenal job of cultivating this alumni culture.”

But it doesn’t end there. “It surprises me how much of a role my high school continues to play in my life. It goes beyond regularly running into alumni in the streets of New York. Many of my close friends today are from the Pudong Class of 2012. Others are SAS alumni whom I met for the first time when I was studying at NYU. One classmate not only attended NYU as well, but also had the same investment banking internship. Even last week, I caught up with another classmate in New York who gave me great advice on how I could better frame a personal issue to alleviate stress.” 

That forms the foundation for Zhang’s desire to support his alma mater – “I look back on the experiences I had and the people I met through SAS and recognize that they helped define who I am today. I want to support the institution so that others may benefit from similar experiences.”

As a first-time donor to SAS this year, Alex looks forward to continuing to support a variety of SAS programs moving forward. “Giving shows you care,” he shares, “and showing that you care is crucial to defining who you are.”

SAS Finance Director, Wendy Li: Why I Give to SAS

Wendy Li has been part of the SAS community for fifteen years, first as a parent and now as SAS’s Finance Director. Li was born in Shanghai and went to the United States in the 80s where she got her finance degree and license. Most of her career took place in the corporate sector, but after her daughter Meredith graduated from SAS in 2010, she knew she had to stay connected to the school and in 2011, she joined SAS as an employee. 

When asked why, Li answers honestly, “I love the school. I am very proud of the school. My daughter went to a first-class college in the States, Williams College, and I am so proud of her, too. She also just got accepted to the University of Chicago medical school. SAS taught her to think big and open her world.”  

Li shares more about her transition to the educational sector, “Most of my career was in the corporate financial area; I was a certified public accountant for Deloitte. I always worked in the corporate field and after my daughter graduated, I thought – the school is a different area but I’m very interested to know about the place where we all grow up– everybody goes to school and Shanghai American School is such a special one. All my friends in China were parents at SAS and they all said they would love for me to join the school. So I did, and I worked, and I stayed, and I still love the school.” 

Li has always supported the fundraising efforts at SAS. For her, philanthropy is philosophical and a way of life, “I feel like philanthropy is something everybody should do. Whether you are giving money or whether you are giving time, we should all think about philanthropy and act philanthropically.”

She continues, “Giving is a fundamental belief I have. For me, giving to the school means giving to the younger generation to fund a better educational program and to support the young people who come to this school. Before they start their careers, we are giving them opportunities to discover their passions; by giving them more choices we are offering them knowledge and opportunities. Giving is an important part of my life.”  

As someone who has held various roles at SAS over the years, Li is in a unique position to see the effect that fundraising at SAS has had over many years. “When I joined the school, the capacity to fundraise was different. The Development Office has grown and evolved into a very important department at the school. There are lots of special projects going on at SAS which offer the children opportunities to explore a variety of interests. The extensions to these programs are not funded from the tuition, rather from fundraising done through the Development Office. Those who give this money for these projects are glad to see how things are growing and evolving and to see how very special these opportunities are for the students.”

Li ends with some words of admiration for the work of her colleagues at SAS, “the Development Office is a great office and I see the impact of your great work. I am committed to supporting your efforts 100% because your work adds value and meaning to the school and to the lives of the kids.” 

Caty Romero and Michael Allen: The Importance of Giving

Caty Romero and Michael Allen have been at SAS for six years. Originally from Mexico and Canada respectively, their twins were born in Chile and since moving to Shanghai in 2013, they have found a home here in China. Based at Puxi Campus, Caty is K-5 Mathematics Instructional Coach and Michael is Elementary School Principal. As a family they have been regular donors to SAS in more ways than one.

For Caty and Michael, coming to SAS was an “opportunity to work at one of the most amazing schools in Asia.” Michael elaborates, “we saw that the quality of the instructional program was grounded and based in best practices and research. We could tell by our initial visit in November 2012 that the skills and abilities of the teachers were top notch; regardless of the classrooms our kids would be in, they would get a high quality of education.” Caty continues, “when we came to interview, we saw that students, teachers and families were so happy. I also saw excellent teaching and learning happening in the classroom where students were engaged, motivated, and eager to learn.”

Once at SAS, Caty and Michael were given so many reasons to love their experience, “Billy and Ana Sofia have had many opportunities to be exposed to a wide variety of activities and learning experiences at SAS over the past six years. They’ve loved all the faculty and staff members who have supported them on their SAS learning journeys. Also, we’ve been so impressed by how aligned the SAS mission and core values are to our own as educators and as parents.”

When asked about their motivations for giving, Michael and Caty are united, “we are very fortunate to have the life we have. We were both born into families that valued education, and now we are here and giving our children similar opportunities. We recognize that there are lots of people who do not have those opportunities even though they might be passionate and smart and hard workers. It’s important for us to help our kids see how fortunate they are to be at SAS; one way to do this is to help them see what others might need and give a little.”

But Caty and Michael are not only talking about financial support, “there are many ways to give; money is one of them, giving tangible items another, but giving time is also important,” they share. The Allens all partner together to support the education of different children around the world. “Billy and Ana Sofia give some of their allowance to cover the expenses for some children to go to school and they spend time writing letters back and forth. They are really learning that they are making a difference for these kids.”

The Allens also work together to give back to SAS in a variety of ways. “We trust where the school has articulated needs, that the money is actually going there, and we know it’s 100% going back to SAS students. These funds ensure that we can make anything and everything possible for SAS students and provide them with these amazing opportunities to learn and grow. Everything the school does, ultimately impacts student growth and learning.” 

“The amount of time we also give to the SAS community is significant,” they share, “and that’s because we really believe in it. As educators, we give a lot of our time to parent education outside the working day, to supporting fundraising events on campus as a family, and to ensuring that at home, our kids learn the importance of sharing with others through all that they do. All of these lay the foundation for the spirit of giving.” 

Caty and Michael end with an important message about giving at SAS, “we see how generous our parent community is to our school and how much they sacrifice and give, and that’s what inspires us to give, too.” 

Mi Jeong Kim: Why the Korean Community Donates to SAS

Mi Jeong Kim (center) is a proud member of the Shanghai American School community. Kim’s family came to SAS in 2014 and she has been greatly involved in the life of the campus, as Korean Liaison and Grade Level Leader in order to support and enhance the experiences of her compatriots. In this interview, Kim speaks to her family’s experiences and on behalf of the Korean community at SAS Pudong but notes that her opinions might not reflect those of all Korean parents at SAS.

Kim’s son, now a Senior, has had the opportunity to engage in numerous activities while maintaining academic rigor through the IB Diploma Programme, throughout his time at SAS. “From my son’s development at SAS, I could observe and comprehend the educational characteristics that SAS values and that balance is important in the student’s life. SAS’s environment that facilitated my expectation for positive motivation in education truly became a chance for me to actively participate in the school’s events and activities,” shares Kim. As such, she involved herself in as many school events as she could, learning about the program and sharing these with the other Korean parents at SAS. Kim has been involved in countless activities including baseball, soccer, Relay for Life, and as a booster volunteer. 

“The Korean community at SAS Pudong participates in three main school events: Carnival, Teacher Appreciation Luncheon, and Korean Treat Day. Such events cannot be executed without parents’ support due to their scale. We sometimes help the school and students during Chinese New Year’s Day as well as Relay for Life, depending on the requests. Moreover, we are planning on supporting Triathlon,” shares Kim.  

Philanthropy runs deep in Korean culture. Kim continues, “Koreans have a historical pattern of collaboration and solicitude, and it enables our Korean community to display a strong synergy. Based on such principles, we have a motivation that transcends supporting ‘my kid.’ In fact, in an international community like SAS, we have a motivation for supporting ‘our kid,’ which drives us to support different activities and events at SAS.”

The Korean community at SAS PD represents about 9% of the campus. “Although it is the second biggest community, the Korean community is still small compared to the total number of families at SAS. However, Pudong campus highly regards the Korean community and actively supports our activities. We receive consistent support and consideration from all members of faculty. Furthermore, we, as parents, endeavor to give back the support and attention we have received to our kids. Our motivation to give back and support our children and community is manifested in our donations to and services in the school.”

“The inspiration for all of our activities begins with the expectation for ‘our children’ to grow as members of a global society, and this has been the utter motivation of the Korean community to participate in activities and donations until now,” shares Kim. “We are affiliated with the PD PTSA, and work concurrently towards the same goal. The Korean community has been able to dramatically develop due to the cordial relationship with PD PTSA and their support that allowed us to play a significant role in Korean Treat Day and Carnival. As an individual, I expect our school’s trust, support, and desire to continue the development of our Korean community just as Korean parents continue to commit and contribute to our school.”

Kim ends on another thankful note, “I would like to lastly thank all the Korean parents, all the staff, and PTSA members for making such wonderful memories for me.”

Mildred Xia and Thomas Jin: Giving to Expand Learning Opportunities at SAS

Mildred Xia, Thomas Jin, and their son Ryan have been part of the Shanghai American School community since 2013. They moved to Shanghai from Beijing in 2004 and while Ryan enjoyed his younger years growing up in Shanghai and spending his formative years at a local school, the Xia-Jin family tried to gain admission to SAS Puxi for their daughter, Stephanie. Unfortunately, the waiting list was just too long at the time and Stephanie had to attend school elsewhere. But when Ryan turned 11, they tried again, “we decided to transfer him to an international school and SAS Puxi is the best in Shanghai. Ryan was lucky enough to be admitted and we have been a happy SAS family since then.” Now, Ryan is almost a High School Junior.

For the Xia-Jin family, philanthropy is about sharing their financial means and other resources for causes that are beneficial to the community. But it’s not just that; “In addition to making money donations, we also devote our time to development activities and leverage our networks to multiply the impact of an individual’s giving,” they share.

“By giving back to the community, we support the changes and development which will benefit the people that we care about. We are proud that we are part of the forces that make our community a better place,” share Mildred and Thomas. And when it comes to Shanghai American School, Puxi campus is not just a place, “SAS is not only the school that our child goes to for education; it is part of our everyday life. Our family has built very special bonds with the faculty and staff, the parents and the students alike.” 

Mildred and Thomas elaborate, “We are deeply impressed by how much Ryan has benefited from being part of the SAS community. Our bond with SAS will go beyond the years that Ryan will receive education from the school.” That forms the foundation for why the Xia-Jin family chooses to donate to SAS, “We want to make our contributions to make SAS a better place for the kids and other SAS families. We would also like to set an example for our children as to the importance of philanthropy in our life,” they share.

As projects that are important to their son, Mildred and Thomas have made generous gifts to the DREAMS Lab fund and the Robotics fund at SAS over the years. These donations have supported the work Ryan has engaged with in technology exploration, pushing his learning in these areas to new heights. “These are the areas that Ryan has been deeply involved in. As a result, we have become aware of what has been achieved and what can further be achieved with the additional resources,” share Mildred and Thomas. 

The Xia-Jin family knows that these experiences require abundant resources, and by supporting these projects financially, they ensure that “the kids can also have the needed hardware equipment and the additional coaching resources to build more complex and sophisticated projects as well as participate in regional and international competitions.” For them, it’s all about supporting their son and other students at SAS to continue exploring, discovering, and succeeding. That’s why Mildred and Thomas give; “We hope that with our contributions and the contributions from others within the school community, more students can develop interests and participate in the activities in these areas.” 

Guiying Zeng and Chunbao Lai: Giving to Support the Educational Mission at SAS

Guiying Zeng and Chunbao Lai are parents to two boys. Their older son is at university, while their younger, Harold, is a fifth-grade student here at Shanghai American School in Pudong. As members of the SAS community for six years now, the Zeng-Lai family not only considers SAS to be a second home to Harold, they also consider SAS to be the best international school as far as they know. 

“Philanthropy, to us, used to mean compassion and helping the poor and disadvantaged,” share Guiying and Chunbao, but now, their definition has changed slightly since connecting with the initiatives at SAS; “We realized that philanthropy can also support the pursuit of a better life. Therefore, we would like to support the educational mission of the school and help create a brighter future and happy environment for the children of SAS.”

So why do Guiying and Chunbao donate to SAS? “SAS treats our kids with patience and love, which have made positive impacts on their education and life experiences. At first, we didn’t understand the importance of donations because parents have already paid tuition fees for their kids and the school has also developed very well by itself. Nevertheless, we have decided to make donations to support a better future of the school so that our kids can have better and more advanced learning environments.”

They elaborate, “We make these donations so that our kids can have access to science and technology, broaden their horizons, and strengthen their collaborative teamwork. We hope the kids will benefit from it, find their passions and excel in their chosen fields one day.”

We ask what Guiying and Chunbao hope to teach their children through their actions, and they wholeheartedly share, “When our children see us donate to the school, we hope they learn compassion and responsibility for society. We hope they see giving as a lifelong mission, and experience joy and fulfillment from it.” 

And what about their hopes for the future of fundraising at SAS? “If we could start any new fund at SAS, we would like to create an award for outstanding teachers because we need first-class teachers to nurture first-class students. That requires not only excellent teaching skills, but also good characters and devotion. We wish SAS the very best in the future!”  

Hairuo Wang and Gan Ding: Giving to Support the Dreams of Young SAS Students

Hairuo Wang and Gan Ding have been part of the SAS community since 2013. Originally from Vorhees, New Jersey, their son Elvin is almost a High School Senior at Shanghai American School Pudong Campus. The Wang-Ding family has made annual donations to SAS since 2013 to a variety of funds. 

When we explore the value of philanthropy, Hairuo and Gan share what it means to their family; simply put, “it means giving to the needy.” But not only, “Giving back to our community is a natural thing for us and it has always been important for our family. We have been educating Elvin since he was in Kindergarten, to give. By giving, we actually receive more; not through material means, but through happiness attributed to the fact that we may have bettered the lives of others.” 

What about the value of SAS for the Wang-Ding family? “SAS has been a significant part of our family since middle school. This is where Elvin spent his entire middle school and high school years. He met great teachers and made great friends here. He has grown from a little boy to a fine young man. We have always wanted the best for SAS.”     

That’s where the motivations for their giving originate, “We understand that funds are needed to run extra programs, and these programs are important for our students outside of their classrooms. We hope the money we donated has supported young students to discover themselves.”

Over the years, Hairuo and Gan have made gifts to the Spaces for DREAMS fund, the Artists in Residence program, and for Athletic Excellence. Their contributions have helped pave the way for SAS students to excel and extend their learning in a host of interests and passions.

The Wang-Ding family has also made donations to SAS’s Unrestricted fund, which allows the school to distribute their gifts where there is most need. And if they could establish a project for funding at SAS, Hairuo and Gan would like to “establish the best high school band among international schools in Shanghai.” Why? Because “Elvin is an accomplished clarinetist and is an active member in the high school band” and they want to see their son blossom in his passion. 

For the Wang-Ding family, philanthropy is a family affair. While Hairuo and Gan direct funds to support SAS where they can, Elvin also does so in his own way. “He has actively engaged in every year’s Relay for Life by promoting clarinet recording pieces he and his classmates made for donation – he was able to raise over 3,000 RMB last year with the support from friends and family. And over the past three years, he has also used his own pocket money to contribute to the tuition and fees for three underprivileged students of his age that our family sponsors.”