Donor’s New Fund to Support Students, Mentoring

January 18, 2024

By Katya Hrichak

Meng Zhou and Andrew Novakovic in conversation
Meng Zhou, M.S. ’92, Ph.D. ’96, and his doctoral advisor, E.V. Baker Professor of Agricultural Economics Emeritus  Andrew Novakovic

Inspired by his experience as a graduate student at Cornell, Meng Zhou, M.S. ’92, Ph.D. ’96, has established the Andrew Novakovic and Meng Zhou Ph.D. Scholars Fund to support doctoral students in applied economics and management (AEM).

The fund is named to celebrate the relationship between Zhou and his doctoral advisor, E.V. Baker Professor of Agricultural Economics Emeritus Andrew Novakovic. Zhou earned a competitive Winrock International Fellowship to sponsor his master’s degree at Cornell. After advancing to the doctorate program, the inadequate training in Western economics – a result of his academic upbringing in China – posed significant challenges that nearly pushed funding support beyond reach.

Despite what appeared to be insurmountable disciplinary and language barriers, Zhou passed his qualifying exam in due time. Seeing the great promise in this ambitious and hardworking young scholar, Novakovic nurtured his potential and identified funding support that fueled Zhou’s commitment to the finish line. Within a short four years, Zhou completed his Ph.D., against the typical timeline of five to six years. During his most difficult time at Cornell, the way in which Novakovic showed up for Zhou was crucial to how he felt seen, trusted, and invested in. Zhou is still immensely grateful for Novakovic’s encouragement, guidance, and the sense of community he had facilitated among his advisees.

After he earned his Ph.D., Zhou made a significant decision for his career—he changed his path from academia to the business world. According to Zhou, he got off to a bumpy start, but he eventually distinguished himself as a highly sought-after business executive and a Fortune 500 China-operation turnaround leader. Today, Zhou is CEO of the Weiming Education Group, one of China’s preeminent K-12 education groups with more than 40,000 students, 30 schools, and 30 kindergartens throughout the country.

“I have had a long wish to express my gratitude to Andrew, and I think this is the best way we can continue his care for students,” said Zhou, who is one of many advisees to have experienced Novakovic’s support. “I really want to help students to develop themselves, and this is the kind of spirit I want to be continued.”

The AEM director of graduate studies will be able to use the fund to make funding packages offered to prospective doctoral students more appealing, allowing Cornell to better compete with other institutions for top students. The fund will also bolster mentoring relationships by supporting programming to help students and mentors learn to work together more effectively and provide funding for research purposes, including conference travel.

“This funding is more vital now than ever before,” said Andrew Karolyi, Charles Field Knight Dean of the Cornell S.C. Johnson College of Business and Harold Bierman, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Management. “We at Cornell are so blessed and proud to have forward-thinking alumni like Meng Zhou.”

Gifts of any amount support graduate students in pursuit of their degrees. Visit Cornell’s Giving website to explore your options.