On Leadership: Q&A with Executive Dean David Pan

April 5, 2021

This month we sat down with Executive Dean of Schwarzman College David Pan to hear about his background in higher education and his advice for Scholars and prospective applicants.

Tell us a bit about your background. How did you become interested in higher education and what drew you to Schwarzman Scholars?   

I have worked in higher education for eighteen years after spending ten years in IT industry. If success in business is measured by dollars, success in education is measured by happiness. I find true happiness and my life purpose in lighting up the world of the younger generation through teaching. Besides that, I enjoy diving into meaningful research in fields like economic history and corporate development. In 2010, I joined Tsinghua leaders in the initial talks about Schwarzman Scholars. I never anticipated that it would mark the start of an 8-year entrepreneurial yet fulfilling journey at Schwarzman College.     

How have you grown as a leader in your current position?    

I think I’m still learning what leadership truly means – but to be successful, you need to be both visionary and down-to-earth; you need to be both flexible to switch positions or perspective, and stand firm by your values and principles. In the classroom, I try to be as visionary as I can, while steering college operations. Outside of the classroom, I try to be as down to earth as possible and participate in key problem-solving. I try to follow my vision, passion and action, or as Steve puts it: Go for it.      

You spend a lot of time teaching and speaking with Scholars 1:1. What’s your best advice for being a successful Scholar?   

In Chinese, we say character-integrity comes first, skills come second (先做人后做事). This year especially, it’s important to dive deep in different opinions, cultures and backgrounds; it’s important to keep learning. But don’t forget to cultivate yourself to be a better person through character building. Skills may define what you can do, but character defines who you are.    

What would you like prospective applicants to know about opportunities at Schwarzman Scholars?      

By design, it is a platform for understanding China, global affairs and leadership; for building a strong life-time network of young talents in both the college and Tsinghua University. But there is more to this opportunity: it is also a platform that prompts you to think and act as a “leader” 24/7. It shapes you into a person with gratitude and altitude. It empowers you to aim higher and dive deeper for the people, for the world.      

What is your favorite part of working with Schwarzman Scholars?     

Scholars always surprise and inspire me. They make me hopeful with their immense potential and manifestation of the program’s mission.      

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?     

Reading, running and trying to find free time.      

What’s one fact nobody would know about you from reading your resume?   

Low profile-actions speak louder than words.