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Gift Honors Professor, Seeks to Broaden Connections to Asia

July 14, 2021

Yang Ni ’95 and his wife, Xiaoqing Li ’96, came to the U.S. in 1987 with their young daughter to pursue advanced degrees. 

“At the time we were students with very limited financial means,” says Ni, an attorney-turned-entrepreneur who earned his juris doctor degree from the Syracuse University College of Law. “We came with a few hundred dollars in our pockets and two suitcases.” 

The Folsom, California pair have come a long way from their humble beginnings and say the Maxwell School, while not the place from which they earned graduate degrees, played a major role. They’ve shown their gratitude with generous gifts that honor a late professor and will build on academic relationships with educational institutions in their native China and elsewhere in Asia. 

Ni and Li have donated $150,000 to establish a scholarship fund in memory of Manfred Stanley, professor emeritus of sociology. They’ve also given $350,000 to Maxwell to establish the Yang Ni and  Xiaoqing Li Endowment Fund for U.S.-China/Asia Relations to encourage greater connections between Maxwell faculty and scholars in China and Asia. 

Xiaoqing Li ’96 and her husband, Yang Ni ’95

“It is with deep gratitude that we thank Yang and Xiaoqing for their philanthropic investment in supporting internationally oriented educational experiences,” says Dean David M. Van Slyke. “These experiences form bridges of collaboration and mutual understanding to inform and improve policies and decisions.” 

The couple came to SU after finishing master’s degrees at Southern Connecticut State University; they’d emigrated from China to attend. Both began as doctoral students at Maxwell: While Ni was accepted into the Ph.D. program in the Department of Sociology, Li pursued her interest in history. Ni had taken the required courses, passed the exams and started writing his dissertation when he applied to the College of Law in 1993. Li, meanwhile, changed majors, earning a master of science in information resources management from the School of Information Studies (iSchool). 

“Even though we both ended up earning degrees from the Law School and iSchool respectively, those memorable years in Maxwell’s sociology and history departments are life changing experiences for us, both intellectually and emotionally,” says Ni, who now serves as CEO/president of CALNY Ventures, a U.S.-based holding corporation that provides laboratory testing and regulatory compliance services for global pharmaceutical companies. “We are fortunate to have met so many wonderful people at Maxwell, our professors, mentors, colleagues at the departments and fellow students.” 

Stanley, a refugee from Nazi Germany, was particularly impactful. He served as Ni’s dissertation advisor and encouraged him to pursue a law degree. “He was just a kind and wonderful human being,” says Ni. “He was also a true intellectual who provided a strong social science perspective of society. Civil society, participatory public life, democratic citizenship—these were foreign concepts when we came to the U.S. in 1987.” 

Stanley’s son, Jason, a professor of philosophy at Yale, says the scholarship is a great honor to his father. “When I was growing up, my home was defined by the intellectual life at the Maxwell School,” he says. “For my father, and his partner Mary Stanley, there was no topic as important as democratic citizenship and its heart, civic education.” 

Ni says the fund for U.S.-China/Asia relations follows that ideal. The funds will be used to help Maxwell faculty travel, research and teach in China, and it may also be used to help Chinese academic counterparts come to the University. “Maxwell welcomed us with open arms,” says Ni. “We’d like to see this tradition continue.” 

By Steve Buchiere

Published in the Summer 2021 issue of the Maxwell Perspective

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