Emma Zhao, MSW ’11, New Director of International Programs

Alumni; Social Work

Now, Emma Zhao, MSW ’11, is the director of international programs at Washington University, but when she graduated from university in Beijing, China, with a degree in social work, she wasn’t sure what the future held.

“I was in the first class of social work at my school,” she says. “And I wasn’t able to find a job in the field.” Then Zhao discovered Washington University’s highly rated social work program.

While at WashU’s Brown School, Zhao took a class on nonprofit development. “We had to raise $500 in one semester,” she says. “I didn’t really feel as if I could do it. For a student, $500 is a lot.” During the class, though, she learned key development skills and resources, and was able to raise the money.

“That definitely helped me decide to go into development,” Zhao says. Her first job out of graduate school was with the Fathers’ Support Center, a nonprofit that helps single fathers with criminal backgrounds reconnect with their children. The center is run by Halbert Sullivan, MSW ’97.

“Without his mentorship, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” Zhao says. The experience led her to a job at the United Way. Yet, Zhao always thought that she’d best excel doing international development. In July 2017, she saw a job open up for director of international programs at WashU.

“I just want to make clear that Tami hired me,” says Zhao with a laugh. Tami Holder was the director of international programs and is a longtime staff member in Alumni & Development at Washington University. “There are lots of people asking her, ‘Oh, you hired Emma, so where are you going?’”

The answer is, nowhere. Holder is now the senior director of international programs and Zhao’s supervisor and mentor.

In her new position, Zhao will be working a lot in Asia. “At WashU, we have done a phenomenal job in the past couple of decades to enhance our impact internationally,” Zhao says. “I think the challenge, not only for WashU but for all schools in the United States, is how to engage international alumni after they move back to their country of origin.” Zhao’s primary focus will be on connecting alumni, friends, students and prospective students to Washington University and to each other.

Zhao is excited about the impact she can have working with the great development team at WashU. “After a while, you can forget why you’re doing what you’re doing on the job,” she says. “But I can see the impact of our work, such as when outstanding candidates are able to fulfill their dreams with our support.”