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WVU School of Medicine biomedical science students to benefit from alumni couple's $52K gift

Dr. Wei Zhao and his wife, Dr. Lanping Yu

Dr. Wei Zhao and his wife, Dr. Lanping Yu

Future doctors, scientists and educators pursuing degrees from the West Virginia University School of Medicine Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology will benefit from an alumni couple’s $52,500 scholarship gift.

The namesake endowed scholarship established by Dr. Wei Zhao and his wife, Dr. Lanping Yu, will be awarded to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology degree programs.

The gift is a tribute to the department that helped shape Zhao’s career. Dr. John Barnett, chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology, is Zhao’s former professor, and the two have remained friends for 30 years.

“It is incredibly gratifying when one of your former students recognizes you for helping them with their career,” Dr. John Barnett, chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology, said. “Dr. Zhao was one of my finest Ph.D. students, and when he decided that he wanted to return to clinical practice, I was able to help him secure a residency in pediatrics. It is really exciting to see how successful he is in his chosen career. Drs. Zhao and Yu’s gift to this department will help generations of students that are coming behind them, and we are very grateful for their kindness and generosity.”

Zhao and Yu both graduated from WVU after immigrating from China, where they first met and married as college classmates. After earning his medical degree, Zhao realized he would need to come to the United States to further his study of immunology. Over nearly a decade in Morgantown, he received his U.S. medical license, earned a doctorate in microbiology and immunology, and completed a residency in pediatrics at WVU.

“I pretty much had to relearn how to live my life in this country,” Zhao said. “It was tough, but also very exciting. I would not have been able to go to graduate school in the United States without the financial support from the Department and the School of Medicine and WVU. I lived for scholarships and teaching assistant, research assistant positions when I was a student. Without those, it was impossible.”

Zhao feels especially indebted to WVU because Department officials agreed to defer his admission for one year after passport delays prevented him from traveling to Morgantown to start the fall 1990 semester on time. After beginning classes as scheduled in 1991, his wife and then-20-month-old daughter, Natalie, joined him a year later.

Yu went on to earn a master’s degree in biology and medical degree at WVU. She completed her residency at Virginia Commonwealth University – where she also gave birth to their son, Nathan – and operates a private practice in pediatrics.

Zhao is now a professor and allergy/immunology specialist at Virginia Commonwealth University. He serves as vice chair of clinical operations, pediatric ambulatory medical director and chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology for Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

“I would really like to help the students, specifically in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology at WVU, who show the education or research potential but maybe need a lift or some help,” Zhao said. “Maybe a little token can help them, stimulate them or reassure them that somebody like them who has been in their shoes could one day be successful. I don’t want them to be stopped by their current difficulties outside their academic area. … They are the next generations of teachers and scientists to make major contributions to society.”

The gift by Zhao and Yu was made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.

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