Alumnus interviews for prestigious scholarship

USC graduate Gary Lai was invited to the interview stage of the Chevening Scholarship, a prestigious and highly competitive award that offers full tuition, living and traveling expenses for graduate studies at any university in the United Kingdom, after advancing past the initial application and independent reading stage. Previous winners of the award have gone on to become congressmen, prime ministers and in some cases, even presidents.

For the past 10 years Lai has been involved in activism, writing for newspapers and magazines worldwide about human development in developing countries, meeting with economists, academics and money managers — often traveling to New York while doing so.

Now 12 years after his USC graduation, Lai wants to hit the books again. Because of the lack of money in humanitarian work, he wants to get a graduate degree to increase his prospects.

“Being an activist wasn’t very financially fruitful, hence going to grad school,” Lai said.

The Chevening Scholarship is open to graduate students that have two to three years of professional experience and is aimed at developing global leaders.

Funded by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the recipients are personally selected by members of British embassies and commissions worldwide.

Award recipients will then return to their home country to contribute to its socioeconomic development using the skills learned during their UK studies. Lai already has his sights set on one school in particular.

“I hope to attend the University of Bristol, which is one of the highest ranking universities in the UK and whose department of economics — since I’ll be writing a dissertation as part of the course — is highly productive academically,” Lai said.

If he wins, Lai hopes to work at a consulting firm or for an investment bank.

Lai, who is originally from Hong Kong, China, studied economics at USC and graduated in 2004. Although he originally chose USC for its weather and business honors program, after taking some Dornsife classes in his freshman year, he found he wanted to switch his major.

“I wanted to be a liberal arts major,” Lai said. “I still wanted to study a lot of the topics that a business major would, so I chose economics.”

Although he graduated in only three years, Lai made the most of his time at USC and was as involved as possible.

“I ran a used textbook exchange online for USC students, served as the assistant managing editor of the Daily Trojan, and organized a national leadership conference with the campus organization National Association of College and University Residence Halls,” Lai said. “I spent a summer interning at Enron in Houston and volunteering with the Red Cross in disaster relief after the Allison floods in 2001 and I was also a member of the Hong Kong Students Association and the Chinese Christian fellowship at USC.”

According to Lai, he is anxious about the results, but is confident in his abilities.

“I’m a little nervous about the interview, especially given the two-month wait until April, although it gives me time to prepare,” Lai said.

The results of the scholarship are announced at the end of June.