Many people are familiar with the Rhodes Scholar program but if you are from China you are more familiar with the James Scholar program. Edmund J. James was an American academic who was the University of Illinois President from 1904 to 1920. He was also the first president and editor for the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Before his tenure at University of Illinois he was the Director of the Wharton School of Finance and Economy. President James real claim to fame is succeeding on his vision to bring the highest level of education to China. He wanted to build strong ties with China by establishing scholarships for Chinese college students to study here in the United States. He worked with U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt to establish the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program. President James with the help of Chinese Minister to the United States, Wu Ting-Fang, created a direct pathway with China and the University of Illinois that carries on to this day. Currently, the University of Illinois has offices in China including Shanghai where they assist students in their quest for an American education. At one point University of Illinois was educating a third of all Chinese students who had come to America for degrees. Past Chinese graduates from the university include Coching Chu (1913) “Father of Chinese Meteorology” and Edward Y. Ying (1939) planner of modern Shanghai.
President James transformed the University during his tenure to be a campus that brought world-class researchers together to encourage human progress. The James Scholar program was established in the 50’s to foster President James’ ideals of research, scholarship, and leadership. James Scholars must be in the top 10% of their class, complete research that is published, complete honors level courses, and have a Dean as an Academic Advisor. The program was created to challenge students to achieve academic excellence, foster leadership, and build research skills. When you become a James Scholar and graduate with those honors your Academic Advisor discusses the high expectations that the program has for its students during the program but more importantly in their future profession. In 1990, Dean of Students, the late Dr. William Wallace recruited me to the University of Illinois Medical School and James Scholar program and became my Academic Advisor. In my four years as a James Scholar I became Class President, conducted research at the world famous Cook County trauma department, spent time at the NIH, completed rotations at some of best hospitals nationwide, served on a Mission trip in Haiti, was a finalist for the Earl Young Resident Research Prize, wrote a book, started a program for inner city high school students interested in the health fields, taught medical school underclassmen, and had other projects to numerous to mention. All of those experiences prepared me for all the projects that I have completed since. Needless to say the James Scholar program was perfect for me.
I have been to China several times this year to lecture on my discovery, Intense Pulse Light for Dry Eye Disease. I have had the opportunity to train several Chinese surgeons, technicians, and clinics. I have met Chinese patients who have been suffering from this disease and been able to offer them this treatment and more importantly hope. During these trips and interactions I can not help but think that my friend and mentor Dr. Wallace and President James are looking down from heaven with a big smile knowing that a James Scholar is in China fulfilling their vision.