The Farm comes to Shanghai and Seoul

Nearly 600 alumni and friends in Shanghai and Seoul attend Stanford+Connects for an immersion in all things Cardinal.

John Hennessy onstage at Stanford Connects event in Seoul

President John Hennessy on stage at Stanford+Connects Seoul. Alumni from throughout Asia traveled to Seoul and Shanghai recently to celebrate the latest discoveries and news from the Farm. (Image credit: Courtesy Stanford Alumni Association)

Mobile phones flashed and hordes of fans crowded around, mobbing the main attraction as if a rock star had just entered the room. There were requests for autographs, lines to take selfies, exchanges of business cards and warm embraces.

The surprised recipient of the unabashed affection? Stanford President John Hennessy.

The throngs were among nearly 600 enthusiastic Stanford alumni and friends from throughout the Pacific Rim who convened in Shanghai and Seoul earlier this month to take part in a “global party for your brain” that brought the best of Stanford directly to Asia.

Thousands of Stanford graduates live and work in Asia and the South Pacific. As proud Cardinal faithful, they are active in more than 20 alumni clubs from Australia to Japan that keep them close to their Stanford peers. They watch Cardinal football and basketball games in the wee hours of the morning. They follow all things Stanford on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They proudly wear their cardinal and white.

But it’s not so easy for these alumni to travel halfway around the world to share their pride in person on campus. It’s a rare opportunity for them to hear personally from faculty members and senior administrators. So in March, the Farm made its way to them.

Stanford+Connects Shanghai and Stanford+Connects Seoul were the 14th and 15th stops on a four-year, 16-city global tour coordinated by the Stanford Alumni Association that has brought together thousands of Stanford alumni for an immersion in the latest Stanford discoveries and news from the Farm.

“Our alumni in Asia feel deeply about their connections to Stanford, and the turnout in both Shanghai and Seoul represented these strong feelings with attendance numbers exceeding all of our expectations,” said Howard Wolf, vice president for alumni affairs. “We were so pleased to bring a bit of Stanford directly to them, and to forge new connections between our Stanford alumni and the university in such an important part of the world.”

Since 2013, the tour has drawn alumni to places as varied as Paris and Atlanta, Boston and Chicago, Arizona and Minnesota. The Stanford+Connects grand finale will be held May 21 on campus, and 1,600 guests are already enrolled.

As with other Stanford+Connects confabs, the Asia events offered attendees a smorgasbord of offerings, including faculty talks on neuroscience and Internet privacy, a deans’ panel on entrepreneurship and micro-lectures on topics such as competition for global talent and American foreign policy.

A highlight of both events was an address from Hennessy, who provided an overview of recent changes on campus and the accomplishments of his tenure as president: increased financial aid and student support, encouragement of multidisciplinary research, an expansion of the arts and a focus on sustainability. He received standing ovations in both cities.

During a question-and-answer session, Hennessy, who will step down as president this summer, was asked, “How would you like to be remembered?” “Other people will write that history. I won’t write it,” he responded.

Hennessy did share his plans for the new Knight-Hennessy Scholars program, which will draw top graduate students from around the world for full scholarships to study any subject, with additional coursework on leadership and innovation. Attendees said they were pleased that Hennessy will lead the scholars program and remain on campus, and that the program aim is to produce new global leaders.

“Stanford is about constant progress. I love learning what’s happening back on campus and hearing from the administrators directly,” said Xy Li, JD ’89, of Beijing, one of many alumni who traveled from other parts of Asia to attend the Shanghai event. “In addition to President Hennessy, we had a small gathering with [Law School] Dean [Elizabeth] Magill. We are so grateful for their interest.”

Hong Chen, PhD ’87, appreciated a lecture from Professor Bill Newsome, who leads the Stanford Neurosciences Institute. Josh Cheng, MA ’83, said that a talk on foreign policy by Michael McFaul, professor of political science and director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, was a highlight. Ray Zhang, MBA ’90, singled out computer science Professor Monica Lam’s lecture on the future of shared networks. Zhang, a venture capitalist in Shanghai who belongs to the Stanford Club of Shanghai, was one of dozens of local alumni who helped coordinate the respective events.

Many alumni in Asia are graduates of Stanford professional and PhD programs, with high concentrations of graduates from the schools of business, engineering and law. To greet these alumni, the school deans – Garth Saloner of the Graduate School of Business, Magill of the Law School and Persis Drell of the School of Engineering – were in attendance, and each held smaller school gatherings.

Alumni connect

The events were true to their “connection” objective and served as a reunion opportunity for dozens of alumni. In Seoul, a cluster of undergraduate alumni from South Korea were reunited for the first time since they went their separate ways after their 2004 Commencement in Stanford Stadium.

“It’s been more than 10 years,” said Eun Soong Hwang, BA ’04, now a lawyer, who raised a champagne toast to former classmate Woojin Lee, BA ’04, who works in private equity. They were joined by Anne Kim, BA ’07, and Desiree Lungee Sung, BA ’05, who were exchanging business cards, determined to reunite again.

“It’s just fantastic to see these great friends again,” Lee said. “We were so close on campus. We are all back in South Korea now, but we just don’t cross paths.”

The animated conversations continued for hours at each event, as participants noshed on sumptuous buffet fare of roasted duck, tuna tataki and chicken satay amid a festive nightclub-style atmosphere.

A hot topic among the attendees was the increasing selectivity in Stanford admissions at both the graduate and undergraduate level – a fact received with a mixture of both pride and concern that Stanford remain accessible to the best students from around the world. Stanford currently enrolls nearly 3,000 students from throughout Asia, including 336 from South Korea and 1,400 students from China, the most of any country.

Another point of interest was the future of Stanford Online, as many friends of the university throughout the Pacific Rim have found Stanford MOOCs a good way to remain in touch.

“I’ve been taking online Stanford courses in storytelling and in innovation,” said Clara Jong, ’90, who received coterminal BA and MS degrees in management science and engineering. Now based in Singapore, she traveled to Seoul for Stanford+Connects. “I’ve never really stopped attending Stanford,” she said.