Westlake News PEOPLE

She Helped Others and Inspired Herself by Donating

23, 2022

Email: zhangchi@westlake.edu.cn
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In the towering mountains of Yunnan, a woman illuminates herself with dreams. Three years ago, when Xiaofeng Xiong was a college student, she decided to donate to the Westlake Education Foundation every month. She used the donation messages to record her thoughts and wishes. Three years later, she joined Westlake University as a research assistant, working and living in the place closest to her heart.

A Decision

Xiong knew that the time had come to make a decision after being rejected by graduate school for the second time.

She could find a job or continue applying to graduate school. Either way, she wasn’t ready to give up on her dream of scientific research. At a crossroads, she opened the donation portal of the Westlake University Youth Talent Award Program, as she would do every month, and sent some of her savings and thoughts.

A Collection of Xiong’s Donation Messages

September 15, 2019

I received my first month’s salary from my part-time job, and the first thing I want to do is to make good on the promise of a monthly donation to Westlake University. I sincerely hope to meet Prof. Yigong Shi one day and become his student, and I will work hard toward this goal. I wish each and every Westlaker a happy day, and each and every kind person a happy life.

November 14, 2019

My fourth donation. I hope I will keep up the good work and go forward on the path of scientific research. It would be so great if one day I became the student of Prof. Shi.

January 1, 2020

I wish Westlake University a wonderful year ahead.

January 25, 2020

This is the first day of the Year of the Rat. I wish Westlake University luck in the new year. I hope that I will work harder and join Westlake University as a graduate student. Sending my best wishes to all the staff and students over the Chinese New Year holidays!

February 13, 2020

My donation for February. I wish Westlake will be better and stronger. My countrymen, stay strong and stay together! We will get through this pandemic.

April 1, 2020

I feel lost. The way ahead is unclear, and I feel insecure. I am afraid that I won’t make it to my ideal university and become a useful person to my country and society. Am I good enough? I really wish I could meet Prof. Shi one day and tell him my thoughts. He is my idol. Dear Xiong, don’t give up, everything will be fine.

April 30, 2020

I’ve started preparing for the 2021 graduate school application. Hopefully I will be accepted by my favorite university next year. Wishing Westlake University the best.

June 1, 2020

I wish myself the best in scientific research, and the best to Westlake University! Way to go!

August 30, 2020

Today is a good day. I received an invitation from Westlake University to send my good wishes to the incoming Ph.D. students. I’ve written piles and piles for WE, and hopefully some of the alumni will read it. Westlake, here I come!

September 1, 2020

I keep up with the monthly donations because I believe in the responsibility and the mission of Westlake. I hope to do my graduation project at Westlake and meet my idol Prof. Shi. Good luck Westlake, good luck to me too!

December 4, 2020

A donation is a donation, no matter the amount. What matters is the will to support the development of a university. I hope to have the chance to do my graduation project at Westlake. I hope that, in the last 20 days before the graduate school exam, I will not forget my original aspirations and continue to work hard to get in. Come on! Good luck Westlake!

February 17, 2021

A new year, a new beginning. I hope to make it into graduate school. Wishing Westlake the best.

October 13, 2021

I hope to outdo myself and make it to my ideal university. Dear me, work hard! I really do hope that one day I get to visit and study at Westlake. Good luck Westlake, I will do my best for you.

May 19, 2022

This is as close as I’ve ever been to Westlake! I wish the incoming students the best. I will see you there soon.

June 30, 2022

Keeping up with the monthly donation. I am putting my hope in you, Westlake. Good luck.

Every month, this college student from Weishan, Yunnan, would donate to the Westlake Education Foundation. If she was going through a rough patch, or achieving small goals, she would leave a message with the donation. Westlake University was like a ray of light to Xiong, who dreamt of doing scientific research.

Biology is her passion. "Each cell in our body is working hard to enable us to sit here, listening to one another, talking, and feeling. Don’t you want to know how and why?” She felt lucky to study biology and would love to have the opportunity to engage in research in the field in the future. It was her dream to have a job that would allow her to keep asking questions, hypothesizing, and solving problems.

Every year over the winter and summer break, Xiong helped her family with farm work such as harvesting lotus roots from the pond and digging wells. Back then, she never set foot out of Yunnan. Therefore, although she was qualified to study in a local graduate school, she still wanted to see the world outside. More importantly, leaving home would be the only way to get closer to the scientific research career she wanted. However, after two years of preparing and trying, she still hadn’t gotten into graduate school. 

“Getting a job was the only sensible choice left. My parents didn’t know much about science – to them, a woman should just get an office job, but I wanted more. Part of me felt that I should start working to alleviate their burden, but on the other hand I still wasn’t ready to give up my love of science.”

Her Story with WE

In the second half of her sophomore year, Xiong came across an interview with Prof. Shi on China Central Television. He spoke about the inspiration behind Westlake and the difficulty of establishing the university. Xiong was impressed with how Westlake managed to raise funds and recruit talent from home and abroad. “I was moved to tears by that interview. Prof. Shi chose to return to China for his love of science and research, and he was yet to offer more to the university,” she said.

It was then that she started to pay attention to the development of Westlake. She began quietly making monthly donations to WE.

She felt the need to support the young talent program. “Talent is crucial to the development of a nation. I felt its absence at my university back home.”

In 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture introduced the "Superior Potato Project", aiming to promote potatoes to become the fourth largest food crop in preparation for food storage challenges. Yunnan has its unique geographical advantages in growing potatoes, and scientists went to Yunnan to establish a research institute and lead investigations into the local potato cultivars and their mass production.

One of the scientists, Yi Shang, later became Xiong’s advisor. Thanks to him, potato research has become a specialty at her alma mater. “Young talent like Prof. Shang has brought concrete changes to my college as well as Yunnan.”

”If I am lucky enough to go further on the road of scientific research, wherever it leads, I would always go back to my country and my hometown,” Xiong said.

The Turning Point

What should I do in the future? As she hesitated, Xiong again thought of her passion, and submitted her resume for a research assistant position at Westlake. She had decided, "Doing research is my passion, and I won't give up."

After rounds of assessments, she joined Westlake University in May 2022, working and studying in the place closest to her heart.

That was her first time leaving Yunnan. Xiong was thrilled and nervous, not knowing what was ahead of her.

Merely five months later, her life changed greatly as she found “a whole new world at Westlake”. She devoted herself wholeheartedly to work and was impressed by the new tools and platforms that came with the job. But she also realized that research was not what she had imagined – it was a lot harder. "Many labs here are doing breakthrough work, and there’s no lack of uncertainty. That is challenging.”

The change of identity also gave her a new perspective. "When I was a donor, I felt that I was to giving hope to others through my donations. Now that I work as a research assistant, I feel that I am part of the experiments and scientific research, that I have become someone who has a role in it. I’ve started to have a sense of responsibility. As a research assistant, it is up to me to reduce experimental errors and unnecessary waste as much as possible."

At her new position, Xiong will continue studying, persevering, and accumulating knowledge, until she is ready to apply for doctoral study at Westlake University. "I know this is a highly competitive place. If I fail the first time, I’ll try again. Anyway, I am still young, so I shouldn’t give up easily,” she said.

As for meeting Prof. Shi, it did happen. She once saw him from afar on campus. Though he was her hero, Xiong decided to keep it short with a simple “hi”. “It was really just a friendly exchange of pleasantries, but I still felt encouraged by him,” she said.

She remembered a conversation between a principal investigator and a student in the summer camp. The student asked how to hold on to his belief and love of scientific research when encountering difficulties. The principal investigator replied, "Just take a look at Professor Shi. That is what someone who loves research looks like."

Xiong agreed. “Westlake is where my dream begins. It is the starting line for my research life, and I am just beginning. I don’t know yet where it will lead or how I will continue, but I will do my best to carry on.”