Chow to retire after 35 years serving international community

Paula Chow

Paula Chow (Photo: Denise Applewhite)

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Paula Chow, who has led the Davis International Center since its founding in 1974, plans to retire at the end of this academic year on June 30.

What started for Chow as volunteer work grew into first a part-time job and then a full-time position. "I never thought of it as a job," she said recently in an interview. "It was always open-ended. Then every year, I didn't want to leave. It's really been a ride."

Chow came to Princeton in 1970 with her husband, Gregory, now the Class of 1913 Professor Emeritus of Political Economy. Both natives of China, they had met and married while she was working on her master's degree and he was working on his doctoral degree at the University of Chicago.

Her volunteer work with Princeton's international wives through the University League led to an interest in helping to set up an international center at the University. Her skills and her contacts made her the natural choice to direct the center when it was firmly established.

Along with the increase in the size of the international community at Princeton, Chow notes the growth in the number of international student organizations and the programs they offer as one of the greatest changes during her tenure. Her 2008-09 report lists 26 international student organizations, ranging from the Bulgarian Cultural Center to Princeton Chinese Theatre, and numerous programs, including discussions with faculty on timely global topics in the news and the annual international festival in April.

Another milestone for Chow came in 2007 when Kathryn Wasserman Davis, a philanthropist noted for her efforts to promote international understanding, and her son, Shelby M.C. Davis, a member of Princeton's class of 1958 and a University trustee, made a $5 million gift to the international center. "That really put us on a different level," Chow said.

Students, faculty, staff and volunteers already have begun expressing their appreciation for Chow's work over the years. A video in her honor was produced by the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Princeton University and shown at its Chinese New Year celebration in February.

"In the freshman year I organized my first international event. Paula linked me with many established student organizations, and more importantly, gave me much emotional support," said Yifeng Wang, a junior majoring in geosciences from China, who appeared in the video.

"Since then, Paula has become a fixture in my Princeton life," he continued in an e-mail. "From my work in the International Festival, to my leadership of the International Consortium and Princeton Chinese Theatre, Paula is there to help, every single day. I never need to make an appointment to talk with her. She comes to our every event and performance. It is my fortune to have Paula in Princeton. I guess it is many people's fortune too."

Daniel Scher, a 2006 alumnus from South Africa who was chair of the Consortium of International Students and is a member of the International Alumni Association, said, "Paula has been a huge part of so many international students' lives, and many regard her as a close friend.

"When I heard about Paula's retirement I sent an e-mail to some of my international friends and the response was all the same: It's the end of an era," said Scher, who now is associate director at the Institutions for Fragile States in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. "She will be sorely missed, but her contributions and warmth will be remembered as a big part of hundreds of international students' Princeton experience."

Chow said she has "no big plans" for retirement, other than joining her husband, who transferred to emeritus status in 2001, on some of his travels. She also plans to offer her services as a translator of Chinese. "Life is always a positive experience for me," she said. "I'm sure I will find more positive experiences."

She said she will miss coming to work every day. "What I will miss the most is young minds and how they help us to shape the work that we do. They are the drivers."