Scholarship Offers Life-Changing Opportunities

Nathan Taylor '04 and Rob Barrett '07


By Mary Hardbarger
Photos by Lora Gordon

In 2004, Nathan Taylor '04 stepped foot on a plane to China and never looked back.

Taylor, a sculpture major, had just graduated from Radford University and was traveling with a group of students who, like him, were scholarship recipients of the Kirk Scholars Program.

The Zylphia Shu-En Kirk Endowment was established in 1999 by Radford University alumnus and former university Board of Visitors Rector R.J. Kirk '76. The program, named in honor of Kirk's daughter, enables selected students to travel to China and study the culture while continuing their Mandarin studies.

Guided by Associate Professor I-Ping Fu, Kirk Scholars travel to different cities, eat local cuisine and interact with students at other universities. For Taylor, the journey was also the start of his job search. 

"The Kirk Scholars Program literally opened up a world of opportunities for me," Taylor said.

Taylor said he fell in love with the country, so much so he decided to make it his home.

When he returned to his Roanoke, Virginia, hometown, he packed his bags and moved to China just months later. Today, he is thriving there, personally and professionally.

"It was an exciting time for me," Taylor said. "I began training teachers and learning about management within training schools. Most recently, I was granted a full scholarship by the Chinese government and was accepted into a Master of Architecture program at Nanjing University."

Taylor also found companionship. He met his future wife in China, and they currently live in the city of Nanjing.

Rob Barrett '07, who earned both his B.B.A. in economics and B.A. in German at Radford University, says that being a Kirk Scholar helped him obtain his first job in Global Sourcing at Advance Auto Parts in Roanoke, Virginia. Currently, Barrett is a corporate attorney for the company, but his experiences and knowledge of China gave him an advantage to get his foot in the door.

"I was a Kirk Scholar for my junior and senior years at Radford University. This program gave me an amazing look at China's economy and culture. It was really great to be a part of a program like this to learn the culture and business of China," said Barrett.

To be eligible for the program, students must take two Mandarin Chinese courses and a Chinese culture class. If they maintain a B average in each class, they can embark on the life-changing study abroad experience. Students are only responsible for a small portion of their travel expenses; the rest of the cost is covered by the Kirk endowment.

The trip usually begins in Shanghai where students get to stay with different host families. Students cook, participate in a tea ceremony, practice calligraphy writing and engage in other activities with families. Students can also experience day-to-day shopping at the supermarket. In Beijing, the group travels to famous sites, such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. 

On future trips, Fu is working to arrange that each student stays for a few days with a host family to truly experience what day-to-day life is like.

"It is my desire that American students can really enter into the Chinese world and have firsthand observation and participation with the Chinese students and their families," Fu said.

That interaction is the aspect senior Jasmine Torres most enjoyed about the program. Torres, of Hampton Roads, traveled to China last summer. The graphic design major said she still keeps in contact with many of the students she met at the Chinese universities. 

"Meeting them was my absolute favorite part of the trip," Torres said. "They were so friendly and open."

Torres also bonded with her Radford University classmates as they navigated unknown territory.

"We were able to work together to make it those three weeks in a country very different from our own," she said. "I think that is what I gained from this experience: a better understanding of myself and those around me."

Jul 25, 2016