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Lu Jiang, ’12 Young Alumni Achievement Award

Lu Jiang, ’12, can point to two decisive moments in time that have helped shape the person she is today.

The first happened in the 1930s in China, when her grandmother made the choice to pursue an education. “Nainai,” as Lu calls her, grew up at a time when literacy was minimal for all people, especially for women. But, says Lu, “She was driven by a strong desire for independence and agency at an early age, and she knew that higher education was the only path for her.”

Nainai went on to become a nurse and steadfastly supported her family for years to come.

The second turning point came in 2008, shortly after Lu had graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management, political science, and international relations. Her family was reeling from the historic financial recession of the time, and Lu had a choice: start searching for a job or chase her dream of obtaining a juris doctor degree.

Upon a chance meeting with a particularly accommodating admissions officer from the University of North Dakota and being offered the UND School of Law Diversity Scholarship for all three years of law school, she chose the latter.

“I was really impressed by UND, and I was amazed that not only do they talk about commitment to diversity, but they put resources behind their diversity principle,” she said.

After graduation, Lu spent a few years in private practice, where she specialized in employment law. Still, she had an overwhelming desire to do more to improve the lives of others. “Ultimately, I wanted to impact change on a global scale,” she said.

Like any good lawyer, she began researching nonprofit organizations that make a global impact. That’s when she learned about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic family foundations in the world whose guiding principle is “all lives have equal value.” The Foundation supports initiatives spanning vaccine delivery, global health research, and Lu’s passion: education.

“Law school taught me more than legal theories and civil procedure. It taught me how to be rigorous in my approach, how to think critically, and it also taught me a strong sense of discipline,” – all traits that Lu highlighted in her application to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Lu was a program manager in the U.S. Program there, with an overarching goal to close the educational and achievement gaps to improve outcomes for Black, Latinx and low-income students.

“My vision is that all learners have the opportunity to receive high-quality education, from cradle to career, and are empowered and supported to receive an education that leads them to a job with economic mobility,” Lu said.

She recalls her grandmother taking the daunting step of pursuing an education and how it ultimately afforded opportunities to her father, and in turn, to Lu herself. With a pledge to carry forward Nainai’s legacy, Lu lives a life of service and philanthropy. At UND, Lu created the Equal Justice Endowment for law school scholarships. At Seattle Central College, she established the Lu Jiang Women’s Empowerment Endowed Scholarship to promote education to diverse women who’ve overcome obstacles.

“If somebody asked me, ‘What is the investment that can get you the greatest return?,’ I would say, ‘Don’t worry about the stock market; invest in education,’” Lu said. “Because the outcome that you gain transcends time, place, and barriers.”

Her philanthropic philosophy also connects education to health.

Lu’s family immigrated to the U.S. when she was a child and she grew up in a humble household in a predominantly white neighborhood. During that time, she became seriously ill with a throat infection. Doctors at a community health center called International Community Health Services (ICHS) saved her life and provided uncompensated care. In true Lu fashion, she vowed to give back to them someday by helping them in their mission to provide culturally appropriate care, and today she serves on the ICHS Foundation Board of Directors.

“I recognize that health and wellness is just as important as getting an education. You can’t look at them in silos, because health status directly impacts economic and social conditions of individuals and communities,” Lu said.

In addition to her involvement with ICHS, she serves on the President’s Resource Council at Seattle Central College, the Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy Seattle/Puget Sound Chapter, coaches the International Community School Varsity and Junior Varsity Mock Trial Teams, and mentors a student at the UND School of Law.

Lu often cites a quote by Michelle Obama: “When you walk through that open door of opportunity, you don’t slam it shut behind you. You hold it open.” And, she adds, “I am gracious and grateful, but I also think about what I need to do with the remainder of my life to hold that door open even wider for others to walk through.”