Ze Zeng ’23 advocates diversity and inclusion for international students

student holding an award
Ze Zeng was a recent recipient of an Orange Circle Award which recognizes altruistic members of the Syracuse University community who have done extraordinary things in the service of others.

When the alarm goes off at 8 a.m., a college town in Upstate New York just had its second rain.  The  ground and air are full of freshness.  So are many students who are starting their day.  Ze Zeng ’23, a Whitman student studying finance, supply chain and business analytics, would never miss his daily routine of reading financial news before going to the morning classes. Yahoo Finance and Global Times are the primary resources for him to understand the global market. He believes that this kind of immersive study can help him better analyze and make rational decisions.

One word couldn’t sum up Ze.  He is the Todd B. Rubin Diversity and Inclusion Scholar and peer mentor at Syracuse University Blackstone LaunchPad.  He is the president of WeMedia Lab. He is the Diversity & Inclusion Leader at Whitman School of Management Dean’s Office.  He is the recipient of multiple scholarship, an RA at Flint Hall, assists with the Syracuse Welcome Office and the Office of First-Year & Transfer Programs.  He was one of the creators of A Hand for Wuhan project at Syracuse University.  He has been working on ideas for his own future venture.  The list goes on. 

Ze thinks it’s a compliment that people regard him as a global citizen. He was born in Guangzhou and raised in Beijing, China. He attended high school in Boston, MA, and then came to Syracuse University to major in finance and business analytics.  He is very much an integral part of the Syracuse community.

He gathers his inspiration from his surroundings, and accordingly, he has explored every continent through travel and exchange studies. 

“Many people come to Syracuse, thinking of leaving it one day,” he notes.  The international student community is a relatively small group and consequently, not many students genuinely get involved in on campus. The four-year college journey is just one chapter in an expedition in their lives.  Many are already planning to return to their home country, to or make a life somewhere else in the world.

Ze felt the same before. While he was in high school as an international student, he encountered many difficulties at the age of 14, such as cultural differences and language barriers. He realized at that time that he had to find ways to both financially and mentally support himself in order to survive in this society.

Before COVID-19 first reached Syracuse, Ze and four Chinese students had already started feeling the strain and gathering resources to build a fundraising platform on campus for communities in China, especially places that needed help the most.

Marvelously, through their work, they quickly raised $55,000 on the platform they created. On May 7, 2020, the Chinese community, mainly SU parents, donated $40,000 to the city of Syracuse for medical supplies.

This international demonstration of love shows the toughness and comradeship among students and families. “SU isn’t just a school or a place for education. It’s where I met my best friends and a place I grew.” Ze said.

Ze likes to be the first one who breaks the ordinary. He’s the first international student to run the president of Module UN in his high school, one of the few Chinese student representatives at the Student Association, and the first couple of Chinese student resident advisors.

His presence and intention encourage other internationals to see the possibility of experiencing remarkable college life.

Ze Zeng at a recent Whitman freshman welcome event, engaging new students in community building

As a self-starter, Ze feels motivated when like-minded people surround him.  Ze enjoys the creative explosion and energy that comes from people who have different backgrounds. “There are so many exciting ideas popping up at the LaunchPad every day.”  That’s one of the reasons he joined the Blackstone LaunchPad at SU Libraries as a peer mentor for student startups.

He engages students, specifically international students, to support and give them advice at the early stage of establishing their startup, such as finding resources, connecting with the industry professionals, and dealing with financial and legal services.

It’s also a mutual learning process for Ze. He can have hands-on experience to assist startups and networking with professionals while helping students.

Ze wants to bring more international students to this entrepreneurial environment that values creativity and diversity. He finds international students are big on innovation. “There are interesting ideas among fellow internationals but lack support. They are like trapped in a bubble.” For example, he’s currently helping a group of architectural students building a platform to connect designers and architects with local constructors.

Looking back at his journey Ze, he says, “I truly believe in every student who invests themselves, whether it’s reading the news or exercising every day.” 

Ze also proves the value and worth of investing in others, as he truly gives of himself to help other students on their Syracuse journey.

Story by LaunchPad Global Fellow Aorui Pi; photos supplied