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Leadership is serious business for junior Joseph Zhang

Junior international business major Joseph Zhang won the "Communities of Change" contest with his video "The Value of $1." Photo: Wayne Armstrong

If you saw a dollar on the ground, would you pick it up? In his winning entry for the University of Denver Magazine “Communities of Change” video contest, junior international business major Joseph Zhang asks this question to explore the issue of community change through the value of a dollar. A buck doesn’t buy much in the U.S., but in Ethiopia it can buy food, clothes and education for one student for a day, Zhang says.

At Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., Zhang was involved with the Cunningham Foundation — a nonprofit that promotes sustainability and education in Ethiopia — and he became enamored with the cause. He co-founded a DU chapter of the foundation last year with fellow Pioneer Leadership Program student Hannah Merten.

Leadership is serious business for Zhang, a Boettcher Scholar who started DU’s mock trial club and is part of the Asian Student Alliance and several University honor societies.

“He has an uncanny ability to quietly rally a group around an important issue or project, organizing them into a productive team of collaboration,” says Linda Olson, director of the Pioneer Leadership Program. “This is a true mark of a citizen leader.”

Zhang plans to pursue an MBA at DU, then a law degree on the East Coast. In fall 2011 he began studying transnational law in a yearlong study abroad program at King’s College in London. Zhang was born in Harbin, China, where, he says, the law didn’t benefit the people.

“That’s changed a lot, but human rights is still an issue over there,” Zhang says.

He immigrated to the U.S. when he was 5 years old but visits China every year. He doesn’t have Internet access when he’s there, which he finds refreshing.

“You’re forced to talk to people, play card games with people,” Zhang says. “I think it’s better to make face-to-face connections.”

He strives to make personal connections at home in the U.S. as well.

“I’ve never had Facebook. I always miss out on parties because of that,” he jokes. “I only have 100 texts [on my cellphone plan] and I don’t want more because once I run out, I’m forced to call people. And I only have 200 cellphone minutes because when I run out I’m forced to go see people. If you’re forced to do something like that, you will eventually make those connections a lot more real.”


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