Skip to content

Things couldn’t have worked out more perfectly for Linda Zhang PPS ‘20. Zhang grew up outside of Beijing. Her K-12 education was a “rollercoaster.” She attended four different types of schools, including traditional Chinese, Canadian/Chinese, and an international school that operated under an American system. As a teen, Linda began dreaming about what innovation in education could look like.

At Duke, she joined Service Opportunities in Leadership (SOL), an intensive 12-month program offered by the Hart Leadership Program at the Sanford School. The program includes a gateway course, a summer research project and a capstone seminar. For her research, Zhang went back to China and interviewed more than 70 students about their perceptions of a liberal arts education.

Her research was well-timed. Duke Kunshan University (DKU), was preparing to welcome its first cohort of undergraduates to campus. DKU, a partnership between Duke, Wuhan University and the city of Kunshan, is specifically designed to innovate; to develop new modes of teaching and learning. Many Duke faculty members teach at DKU and Zhang’s research would give them crucial insight into Chinese students’ high school experience and what that means for their college expectations.

Zhang drafted a memo with her research findings, a skill she learned in a public policy class her freshman year. That memo has become a part of the material Duke faculty members review before teaching in China.


Throughout her time at Duke, Zhang became chief cheerleader for DKU. She studied abroad there, and runs the Kunshan Student Ambassador Council (KSAC). The council runs Skype calls, buddy systems, awareness projects, orientation plans and more all in an effort to build bridges between DKU and Duke students.

Zhang traces her rich experiences with DKU directly to the Sanford School.

“Sanford helped me build a foundation to be of service and help in a big way,” Linda says. “I did that original research project as an 18-year-old freshman. Without the Hart Leadership Program and the Sanford School, there is no way I’d be involved in Duke Kunshan in the way that I am. Duke is the love of my life.”