World / US and Canada

Harvard names first building after a woman

By HEZI JIANG in Boston ( Updated: 2016-06-07 11:24

Harvard names first building after a woman

Elaine Chao (center), former US Secretary of Labor, speaks on behalf of her sisters at the dedication ceremony of the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center, which is named after their mother, on Monday at the Harvard Business School. [Photo by HEZI JIANG/China Daily]

Nearly four centuries after the university was founded, Harvard campus opened its first building named for a woman -- Chinese American Ruth Mulan Chu Chao (1930-2007).

In tribute to the life and legacy of the family matriarch, Dr James Si-Cheng Chao, a successful merchant mariner, business leader and philanthropist, and the Chao family foundation in 2012 made a $40 million gift to Harvard Business School (HBS), where four of the couple's six daughters graduated. The new Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center took two years to design and another two to build.

"[My mother] believed that men and women should be treated equally, and she and my father made sure her six daughters were equipped with the tools they needed to realize their dreams," said the oldest daughter Elaine Chao, former US secretary of labor, on behalf of her sisters at the dedication ceremony of the center on Monday.

Mounted above the front door of the three-story,90,000-square-foot building, the family name Chao now stands among some of the world's most notable names -- Baker, Bloomberg, Chase and Morgan.

Embracing both tradition and innovation, the exterior of the center is a combination of brick and soaring glass and steel. The interior is replete with social spaces, including a terraced-stairs sitting area, two dining rooms, three lounges and a wine bar. The center is design to function as an activity hub for the more than 10,000 executives who attend HBS' executive education programs.

The dedication ceremony was attended by family friends, some traveling all the way from China, and top government and university officials, including Harvard University President Drew Faust, HBS dean Nitin Nohria, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Elaine Chao's husband Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. All five living US presidents sent letters of congratulation.

"Immigrants now launch more than one-quarter of all businesses in the US," said Markey. "Immigrants are the risk takers and job creators. The Chao family is the true, perfect example of the American dream come true."

"When I first came to the US in the 1950s, immigrants like us couldn't even think about going to top universities like Harvard," said Dr Chao during the press conference. "Now we want to provide everyone with that opportunity."

Of the $40 million donation, $35 million was used for the construction of the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center, and $5 million allotted toward the Ruth Mulan Chu and James Si-Cheng Chao Family Fellowship Fund, which has supported six to eight outstanding students of Chinese heritage each year since 2013.

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