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Nancy and Bill Yang

His Parents’ Indelible Legacy Prompted Nancy and Bill Yang, MPH ’84, to Fund the First Endowed Centennial Scholarship at the Bloomberg School

“YOUR INHERITANCE WILL BE YOUR EDUCATION” was the promise that Bill Yang’s parents gave their children. “Education was the best gift they could give us,” Yang said of his China-born father and Trinidadian mother.

His grandfather had been president of Soochow University, and Yang’s father came to the United States to attend college just before World War II. In the aftermath of Mao Zedong’s Communist Revolution, Yang’s father never returned to his homeland and eventually settled his family in Ohio.

“We really feel strongly about education and we have the resources. Since we don’t have children, we wanted to help someone else’s children go to school.”
—Nancy Yang

Yang’s mother, a college math professor, was devoted to her many non-traditional students: most long out of high school, some raising families. She designed teaching videos to help them get through their math requirements. Like Bill’s mother, the Yangs care deeply about helping students, especially those shut out by the barrier of tuition.

Impact of Bloomberg School Experience

Bill, an alumni of the University of the South, Emory School of Medicine, and JHSPH, is acutely aware of how each of those stops helped him achieve his career goals as a Navy  physician. Originally trained in family practice, he made a mid-career switch to occupational medicine. When the Navy selected him for a full scholarship, Yang chose the two-year Bloomberg School residency in occupational and environmental medicine.

First-year residents earn an MPH, which awakened him to the importance of population-level medicine. The depth and breadth of public health courses gave him a strong foundation for problem-solving, “and sometimes it gave me somebody to call” to discuss how the occupational medicine, public health, and military medicine pieces all fit together.

Yang remembered that “peer discussions are where a lot of the learning happens, and JHSPH provides a great environment for that.” As chair of the residency advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he continues to play an active role in shaping the learning experiences of public health residents.

Value of Scholarships

In recent years, the Yangs have grown more passionate about the value of scholarships to open the doors of great institutions like Johns Hopkins. Bill worries that “there’s so much student debt, it’s like paying off a house after you graduate.” Scholarships are especially critical for international students, for whom even low tuition may be unaffordable.

The Yangs had considered different bequest options, but realized that “educational institutions and particularly scholarships are going to provide the best long-term benefits, so that’s where we really want to see our money go. The older you get, the more you see the value of the education that you’ve received.”

The Yangs emphasize that gift planning advisor Mike Zerolnick and gift officer Barbara Verrier “have been instrumental in this whole process. They have showed us that we could endow a scholarship over time. Giving $100,000 at once is a daunting task, but doing it over five years and using tax incentives made it possible for us to see it come to fruition, long before we die.” In honor of Bill’s father, the Yangs designated their scholarship to benefit an international MPH student at the Bloomberg School.

“We want more people to have the amazing opportunity to attend Johns Hopkins and take it back to other parts of the world.”
—Bill and Nancy Yang


The most important factor in their decision to move forward with endowing the scholarship sooner instead of through a bequest was the one-to-one Centennial matching opportunity for gifts up to $100,000. Now, their planned gift will add further to the endowment after it’s established. 

The Yangs look forward to meeting the recipients of the Yang Centennial Scholarship over time, and hearing about their plans for the future. Bill hopes that will include returning to their home countries to work in public health. But the Yangs’ most important goal for their endowment is to ensure that more JHSPH graduates “get the opportunity and don’t have to take out a loan or worry about living expenses while they are here, so they can enjoy and soak up as much as possible during that year.”

When that happens, Bill’s grandfather and parents will have left an educational legacy that circled the globe and survives into the new century.