The French government has bestowed one of its highest civilian service awards on Stevens alumna Dening Wu Lohez for her tireless support of international education and French-American relations. On May 1, 2013 at a ceremony at the French Consulate in New York City, Lohez was decorated as a Knight in the French National Order of Merit by Consul General Bertrand Lortholary.
“This distinction marks in particular the recognition by French authorities of your engagement in the service of education and French-American relations,” French Ambassador to the US François Delattre wrote to Ms. Lohez in his formal letter of congratulations. “This honor is a profound source of joy for all who admire your work, for whom it serves equally as an example and a source of encouragement.”
Lohez, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from China in 1986, attended Stevens for graduate school. In her on-campus dormitory, Hayden Hall, she fell in love with Jérôme Lohez, also a Stevens graduate student who was part of an exchange program from École pour L'informatique et les Techniques Avancées (EPITA) in Paris. She earned her master’s in Electrical Engineering in 1997, he earned his master’s in Computer Science in 1994, and the two married in 1998.
Just three years later, Jérôme Lohez, at 30-years-old, was one of five French nationals who perished in the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He had been at work – on the 26th floor of the North Tower where he we was employed as a senior technology infrastructure architect for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
Of course, Lohez was utterly devastated and almost paralyzed by grief. But she eventually managed to channel her loss into something positive.
To remember and honor her husband, and help his name live on forever, Lohez founded a scholarship foundation in his memory in 2005 to support a cause near and dear to both of them – building bridges between cultures and promoting cross-cultural understanding.
“The tragedy of 9/11 showed the devastation that can come from a lack of dialogue and misunderstanding between cultures,” Lohez said. “I believe education can connect people across distances so we can see each other’s commonalities, understand each other’s differences, and bridge the cultural divide.”
The mission of the Jérôme Lohez 9/11 Scholarship Foundation, which is based in New York City, is to promote educational and cultural exchange between France and the U.S. in order to develop a pool of highly-trained global innovators, business leaders and policy makers, to foster trust, mutual understanding and respect in international commerce and global society at large.
Since its establishment, the foundation has awarded 27 scholarships to students attending top universities in the U.S. and France which have exchange programs with one another, enabling them to study in one another’s nations (one annual scholarship is always reserved for a Stevens student).
Last year, the foundation also initiated new partnerships with Chinese universities that offer international graduate exchange programs in the U.S. and France, further advancing its vision to shape the next generation of multinational citizen.
Five additional scholarships will be awarded in 2013.
“International educational exchange is extremely important for young people today, since we live in such a globalized world,” said Lohez. “No matter how much internet surfing or television watching you do, you cannot truly understand the nuances and differences of other people unless you live in and study in one another’s cultures.”
Lohez said she and her late husband experienced first-hand the positive impact of the opportunities the foundation now makes possible for so many others.
“We both came from foreign countries and met at Stevens,” she said. “America offered us opportunities – better living standards, more personal freedom, and a chance to experience cultural pluralism and religious tolerance. By our own choice, we became Americans.”
Lohez was “thrilled” and “inspired” to be chosen as a member of the French National Order of Merit, which includes such famous company as King Juan Carlos I of Spain and U.S. General Wesley Clark, Sr.
“This honor is encouragement to continue to set an example for global exchange through the work of the foundation,” said Lohez.
Photo caption: Dening Wu Lohez, MEng. '97 (in pink), listens as the French Elected Representative for the Eastern US, Richard Ortoli, delivers remarks prior to her decoration with the French National Order of Merit, as Consul General Bertrand Lortholary looks on (right). Stevens Professor Dan Duchamp, head of the Department of Computer Science, served as master of ceremonies for the evening.