Regina Parker graduated in the top one percent of her class at West Point, she is a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and she is an accomplished pilot. Now she’s been chosen to take part in the one-year Schwarzman Scholars program at Tsinghua University in China, one of the country’s leading universities. This ambitious program, limited to 200 students a year, is part of a rigorous and innovative Master’s of Global Affairs degree program at Tsinghua University, and it was founded by billionaire and Blackstone CEO Stephen A. Schwarzman, a key economic advisor to President Trump. The program aims to gather, educate and influence the next generation of global leaders and it has been recognized as a possible path towards easing tensions between the U.S. and China. Regina and the other participants were also featured this summer in a one-hour documentary, “A Billionaire’s Bet: The Best & Brightest,” that aired in June on CNBC. (The documentary will re-air on CNBC World Saturday, August 5 at 3 p.m.; Friday, August 18 at 2 p.m. & 5 p.m., Sunday, August 20 at 5 p.m.; Wednesday, August 30 at 8 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. and Sunday, September 3 at 10 a.m.)
Lora Griffiths: How did you hear about the Schwarzman Scholars Program?
Regina Parker: I learned about the program after reading an article about Schwarzman Scholars published in The Economist in 2013. I graduated in the spring of 2016 from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a double-major in Mechanical Engineering and American Politics. Following my studies in China, I will enroll at Harvard Medical School and serve as a physician in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. As a Medical Corps Officer, it will be my privilege to provide medical care for individual soldiers, veterans and their families at home and overseas. As I rise in rank, I will also influence system-wide policy changes that shape the strategy and tactics of the Medical Corps. I envision myself transitioning to a civilian policy position following my military service so that I can influence national health and defense policy in ways that will not be possible while I wear an Army uniform.
LG: You have been in China for four months now. Do you have any ideas about what you will come back and share with the United States so that we can understand the way China thinks and works a little better? Or is it too early to know that just yet?
RP: China has generally exceeded my expectations. I have been most surprised by the sheer size of the country, which feels more like a continent. There is so much diversity in culture and geography, from the Karst mountains in southern China, to the deserts in the north, to the grasslands in the west and metropolitan cities in the east, that it is hard, if not impossible, to generalize China. I have also been studying in China since August 2016. Although I have also done quite a bit of traveling this year. In addition to traveling all over China, I also went to India, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, Portugal and Spain, either with other Schwarzman Scholars or to attend conferences.
LG: I realize building friendships is key to this program. Are you making friends within the program and with other Chinese students? Is the language or the culture a barrier to building friendships?
RP: I have become friends with all 110 scholars in my class as well as with Chinese students at Tsinghua University and people living in Beijing. It was been fun an enlightening to get to know people from around the world and realize that we are all more similar than different. This year I have learned more through my friendships than from any academic class (which is saying a lot, because the academic program at Schwarzman College is outstanding).
LG: What has been your most memorable moment in China so far?
RP: First place: My most memorable experience in China was venturing to the city of Xi’an, my first trip outside of Beijing. The trip featured the famous Terracotta Warriors, bike riding along the ancient city wall and a fancy dinner with the city’s mayor!
Second place: One Sunday I took a bullet train to Suzhou, a water town right outside of Shanghai that is called the “Venice of the East.” It was pouring rain that day, so the city was peaceful and relatively clean of tourists. I ended up spending the entire day walking around Suzhou with a Chinese girl from Shanghai. Although we could only communicate in short broken phrases, we still had a lovely day laughing and enjoying the gardens and pagodas.
LG: You created the Peer Support Group at the U.S. Military Academy where cadets are trained to provide mental health counseling to fellow cadets. I also read where you would like to develop national health policies when you graduate from Harvard. Will your focus remain on mental health and, if so, what do you hope to achieve?
RP: Yes, I initiated and led the Peer Support Program at West Point, whereby a select group of cadets receive around 50 hours of training from licensed psychologists to provide mental health support for other cadets. And yes, I would eventually like to not only practice as a physician, but also to develop health policy within the military and at a national or even international level. While those policy efforts will necessarily target mental illness to some degree, there is so much work to be done that is beyond the scope of mental health policy. And even beyond health systems, I am interested in all forms of policy, from defense and international security to economic policy.
LG: What schools did you attend in Chapel Hill? Was there a teacher or a course that you took in school that led you down this path you are currently on, or do you come from a military or medical background?
RP: I attended Trinity School for elementary, Durham Academy for middle school, East Chapel Hill High for ninth grade and then a boarding school in New Jersey called Lawrenceville School for the remainder of high school. I owe a large part of my motivation to serve our country to my studies of the ancient Romans. Is it possible to read “The Aeneid” without being inspired by a sense of civic duty? I first took interest in the Romans during my fourth-grade Latin class at Trinity School with Ms. Rita Davis. I love reading about Roman political, economic and military history because there is so much that America can learn from the Roman experience. I will also say that while my parents and grandparents are not soldiers or physicians themselves, they fully support my pursuit to become an Army doctor.
LG: Do you get back to Chapel Hill often? What do you do for fun when you come home?
RP: Chapel Hill will always be my home, and I get back as often as possible. My family loves the Tar Heels – two of my younger siblings are students at UNC. When I come home, I spend most of my time enjoying Franklin Street and the world’s best college town!