Young alumna names career exploration fund after former adviser, professor

June 19, 2019 — As a Grinnell College student, Lu “Maggie” Bian ’09 relished the chance to volunteer in Tibet, take on a summer internship at the United Nations Development Programme in Beijing, and participate in another internship in Korea.

Although those experiences didn’t end up being directly related to what she does today working for Hillhouse Capital Management, Asia’s largest alternative asset management company, having the options to investigate conceivable careers was invaluable.

Lu “Maggie” Bian ’09
    Lu “Maggie” Bian ’09

 “I think a lot of students want to explore what’s outside of the ivory tower,” Bian says. “Career exploration is a very important part of the college experience. I would like students to have this exploration opportunity without too much financial burden.”

At least two students every year will have that chance thanks to the Professor Andrew Hsieh Career Exploration Fund, which Bian set up through a $50,000 pledge to the College.

The fund will supplement two unpaid summer internship experiences. At least one experience will take place in an international venue with first preference granted to an Asia-based internship experience.

Hsieh taught Chinese and Japanese history classes at the College while researching the social and intellectual history of late imperial China. He was the founding instigator of the College’s robust program and partnership with Nanjing University in China. Hsieh became a professor emeritus of history in 2013.

“As a teacher, scholar, advisor, and mentor, Professor Hsieh helped numerous students explore their interests, pursue their goals, and explore the world,” says Mark Peltz, Daniel and Patricia Jipp Finkelman Dean, Center for Careers, Life, and Service. “What better way to honor his legacy than to help student pursue internship experiences in Asia and beyond. Maggie benefited from such experiences, and her incredibly generosity will extend that benefit to future generations of Grinnellians.” 

As a professor, Hsieh taught Bian East Asian history, “but beyond that he was a good advisor and mentor,” Bian says. “I consulted with him when I was looking into study abroad programs. He helped with a letter of recommendation to graduate school. He made great contributions to the College overall. Naming the fund after him was on behalf of all the students he helped along the way.”

Bian studied economics and East Asian studies at Grinnell. She was one of a handful of students from China attending the College at the time. Not many Chinese students back then knew about the liberal arts or how a liberal arts school differed from a university – a circumstance Bian wanted to change.

In 2009, Bian co-founded the China Liberal Arts Tour, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between liberal arts colleges and prospective students in China. That summer, ten liberal arts colleges, including Grinnell, were invited to visit five Chinese cities for presentations and interviews.

“Back then liberal arts schools were still a mystery to Chinese students,” Bian says. “It was a grassroots effort. The tour has gained in reputation and has become bigger in scale over the last decade, but we started out small. Alums had to visit with staff in the colleges where we graduated from and explain to them why the tour would be beneficial. It took off from there.”

Getting ready for its 11th year, the tour has promoted liberal arts colleges to thousands of Chinese students and parents. Bian remains involved and is proud of what the tour has accomplished.

“I’m happy the tour has stayed true to its mission,” Bian says. “It was always meant to be a nonprofit and be about crating connections and opportunities. There are so many students whose lives have been changed. Colleges now understand a lot more about China. Instead of just recruiting in Beijing, they are going to the smaller Chinese cities and increasing the diversity of the student body.”

Bian speaks from firsthand experience when she tells prospective students that Grinnell prepared her for her career even though she didn’t know what that career would be during her time at the College.  

“The process of studying and learning is very important in today’s world,” Bian says. “A liberal arts education really prepares students for embracing any field.”

Bian says her Grinnell learning also aided her at Harvard University where she earned a master’s degree in regional studies – East Asia. From there, Bian was hired at Sanford Bernstein in Hong Kong as a research associate and later a salesperson in the equity sales division. In 2016, she began working at Hillhouse as head of talent. She helped recruit key people in the firm’s private equity functions and is involved in post-development portfolio work, such as working with investment professionals to improve operational efficiencies and set up internal policies.

Even with her busy work and volunteer schedule, Bian still finds time to serve as a class fund director for the class of 2009.

“Although we are still a fairly young class, I think we have a lot of opportunities to give to the College,” she says.

Although she could not attend in person due to an unexpected illness, Bian’s accomplishments were celebrated at Reunion 2019 when she was received a Pioneer Award. The Pioneer Award is a distinctive Alumni Award, which recognizes noteworthy alumni who have graduated from Grinnell College within the past ten years. These honorees offer inspiration as models for their demonstrated commitment to the values and mission of Grinnell in such a short time.

“It’s an honor to receive the award and it’s wonderful for the alumni community to embrace international students for this recognition,” she says.

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Learn more about Grinnell’s student internship programs and how the Center of Careers, Life, and Service is assisting with career exploration

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.