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Five Duke students, alumni named Schwarzman Scholars, will pursue degree in China

<p>Max Labaton (left) and Charles Berman (right)</p>

Max Labaton (left) and Charles Berman (right)

Five Duke students and alumni have been named Schwarzman Scholars, earning them the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in China.

Two current seniors, Charles Berman and Max Labaton, were chosen, as well as three alumni: Yunjai (Caroline) Lai, Trinity ‘19; Steven Soto, Trinity ‘17 and Kevin Zheng, Trinity ‘19. This year’s class was the most competitive in history, with 145 individuals selected from more than 4,700 applications. 

The Schwarzman Scholarship covers the costs for American students to pursue a one-year master’s degree in global affairs at Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The program hopes to foster better relations between the future leaders of China and the United States through this partnership. It seeks out qualities like demonstrated leadership and a desire to understand other cultures, according to its website. Scholars take classes in English but otherwise immerse themselves in Beijing and China more broadly.

Berman hails from Durham, N.C., and majors in visual media studies and Asian and Middle Eastern studies. The president of the Duke table tennis team, Berman also serves as the chief media director of Duke Sport Clubs. He has already studied abroad in China and Argentina and hopes to use his experience as a Schwarzman Scholar to pursue a career as a director, actor or artist.

Labaton is an American Grand Strategy council co-chair and opinion managing editor for The Chronicle from Washington, D.C. He is majoring in public policy studies and has previously interned for the Department of State’s embassy in Peru and the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations. He assisted 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and plans to eventually enter a field related to diplomacy and foreign service.

Lai, who is from Chongqing, is the first Duke student from China to be recognized with the Schwarzman. She graduated with majors in economics and international comparative studies. While at Duke, Lai participated in DukeEngage Detroit and danced in Duke Swing as well as Duke Chinese Dance. She spent time promoting the Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, which sought to build a community of entrepreneurs on campus. 

Soto, of Phoenix, majored in political science at Duke and is a first-generation student. A recipient of the William J. Griffith University Service Award, Soto has worked at Venture for America, a nonprofit started by Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. He intends to use the Schwarzman Scholarship to research how technology can strengthen civic institutions in democracies.

Zheng is from Glenelg, Md., and majored in computer science and biology. He would like to focus his career on the intersection of equitable health care access and technology. He served as an emergency medical technician as an undergraduate and later co-founded Optiml, which uses artificial intelligence to detect eye diseases. As a Schwarzman, Zheng will study artificial intelligence in depth with the long-term goal of global collaboration.

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