Selfless world traveler receives MLK Jr. scholarship

By Lin Lofley / Week of Jan. 15-21, 2011

Andrew Wang, a fourth-year medical student who will graduate from UT Southwestern’s Medical Scientist Training Program (M.D./Ph.D.) in June, has won the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship for Community Service.

The Harvard University graduate accepted the award at the Jan. 13 ceremony and then he returned it. Nobody seemed surprised.

From left: Dr. George C. Wright, guest speaker; So Yeon Paek, other scholarship award finalist; Andrew Wang, winner of the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship for Community Service; and Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, UT Southwestern president.

Mr. Wang, a professional violinist who attended high school in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, said, “I accept this award humbly, and I return it for someone else.

“Hearing my name in the same sentence with Dr. King … well, I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that.”

Mr. Wang’s travels have taken him to Paris, where he completed courses at the University of Paris Descartes, and he has performed musically across Europe. He said one of his most memorable performances was at a music festival in the West Bank, part of the Palestinian territories, where he was able to work with students and young musicians.

A trip to Sierra Leone gave Mr. Wang and a friend an idea for how to help the African nation that was ravaged by civil war for more than 10 years, beginning in 1991.

Mr. Wang is a director of both BeeFreed LLC and the Sierra Leone Educational Enrichment Program, a pair of companies that aim to stimulate the economy of and improve education in the West African nation while at the same time reducing starvation.

“We employ about 1,200 amputees and war victims in the country,” he said. “They earn their living, and we believe the companies will go far toward empowering young Sierra Leonean leaders. There’s hope in collaboration and learning.”

Mr. Wang said he came to UT Southwestern for one reason: “It’s the best place to train. I have been able to work with Drs. Ward Wakeland and Chandra Mohan and to be mentored by Drs. Michael Brown and Andrew Zinn. Where can you find better training than that?

“And then I got to work at Parkland Memorial Hospital. It’s a gem, and the experience that you get there is unique. During my interviewing for the next step in my career I’ve met people from all over the country, and I can’t help but think that we who have worked at Parkland are better trained than the people from anywhere else.”

The MLK scholarship was presented by Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, president of the medical center, and Dr. Drew Alexander, assistant dean for community affairs.

So Yeon Paek, a fourth-year medical student from Brownsville and a graduate of Yale University, was the other finalist for the award. Ms. Paek is a veteran of aid projects in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, as well as in Ghana, China and El Paso. While in Ghana she helped with vision screenings and education; while in China she traveled from Beijing to Inner Mongolia to assist in rural education projects.

Dr. George C. Wright, president of Prairie View A&M University, was the guest speaker.