Gift from Anne Shen Chao ’74 helps launch Office of Student Success

When Anne Shen Chao ’74 came to Wellesley as an international student on a full scholarship, she was unfamiliar with American culture and found that her high school education hadn’t adequately prepared her for college.

But eventually, Anne adapted to Wellesley and to the United States. She had intended to major in science but soon realized it was not for her. Instead, she leaned into Chinese history—a subject that turned out to be vastly different from the biased lessons she had learned as a student in Taiwan. She went on to earn her Ph.D. in the field and eventually founded the Houston Asian American Archive at Rice University, an oral history collection about the lives of Asian Americans in the Houston area. She is currently researching to write a book featuring Chen Duxiu, the founder of the Chinese Communist Party and a critical figure in Chinese history.

Anne’s experience at Wellesley taught her the value of encouragement and guidance in higher education, particularly for first-generation, underrepresented, and underserved students. Now, she wants students in similar positions to have better access to the academic, financial, and social resources that can help them succeed in college. Anne and The Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation have committed $5 million that enabled the College to launch the Office of Student Success (OSS); created the endowed Anne Shen Chao ’74 Director of Student Success; and will name The Chao Foundation Chair for Inclusive Excellence.

“Wellesley has so much to offer to all of the students, regardless of background,” Anne says. “What we need is to help them in whatever area they need, and they will just shine and thrive. I think that the OSS is one way to get this done.”

OSS, which launched in January 2022, is now a hub for all first-generation, low-income students at Wellesley, and Anne credits Wellesley President Paula A. Johnson with having the leadership and foresight to envision and activate this critical resource. “Without someone championing this activity, it would be left unaddressed, and we would be missing a huge opportunity to help our student body,” she says.

As part of the Office of Inclusion and Engagement, OSS enhances and expands programs that are available for first-generation, low-income students at Wellesley; connects students to campus partners and resources; and builds a sense of community and belonging. “The ultimate goal is to create a strong and sustainable infrastructure that provides ongoing support to our first-gens,” says Jamie D. Motley, Ph.D., the inaugural Anne Shen Chao ’74 Director of Student Success, who is celebrating one year at the College this month. “Many of the students have expressed that they truly appreciate having a designated office for them. They expect the office to grow, and I am working to provide that growth with the College’s support.”

In her first year, Jamie focused on helping first-generation students feel connected by taking 50 WellesleyPlus participants on a retreat to Essex Woods and bringing a smaller group to the First Gen Summit at MIT in November. Her office also sponsored a First-Gen Class of 2022 Celebration for graduating seniors last spring, a First-Gen Welcome Dinner in the fall, and forged partnerships with other offices across campus so that students know there is a direct line of support from OSS to the class deans, Career Education, Student Financial Services, and the Students’ Aid Society.

“I enjoy seeing students benefit from the services we offer, and seeing students blossom as leaders,” she says. “Without the generosity of Dr. Chao, this would not have happened.”

“I believe in equal rights,” Anne says. “The right to survival, right to happiness, the right to education. All of these rights, and yet it’s a matter of distribution of resources. Those of us who are lucky enough to have enough resources should consider giving back and helping those who do not. If we can make it more equitable for everybody, it’s a better world.”