Career Strategy Fellowships Study Abroad

Dr. Richard U. Light

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Dr. Richard Upjohn Light (1902-1994) was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, raised by his mother, Winifred Upjohn (whose father founded the pharmaceutical giant, the Upjohn Company) and by his adoptive stepfather, S. Rudolph Light, a medical doctor and mayor of Kalamazoo. Dr. Richard U. Light graduated from Yale in 1924 with a degree in Economics and studied Neurosurgery at the University of Michigan. After taking flight lessons during medical school, Dr. Light became an amateur pilot, bought a small plane, and in 1934, he set off on his first epic plane trip – a 29,000-mile round-the-world saga, only seven years after Charles Lindbergh’s famous trans-Atlantic flight. Three years later, he and his wife, Mary, took a flight winding down through South America and back up via Africa, documenting the journey with photography.

Dr. Light eventually gave up piloting and opened his own neurosurgery practice in Michigan, though he continued to travel, including a stint as a guest on the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier outside North Vietnam, a glacier photo-expedition with his four sons in Alaska, and two trips to Antarctica as a visiting scientist for the National Science Foundation. During his adult years, Dr. Light was instrumental in the overhaul and improvement of Kalamazoo College as a whole, as well as in starting a foreign study abroad program for Kalamazoo students. He also served as the President of the American Geographical Society. At Yale, he helped to rebuild the Yale-in-China program, which had fallen apart during the second world war, served on the Yale University Council, and endowed an undergraduate scholarship.

Dr. Light saw East Asia's growth as an opportunity for Yalies to bring fresh perspectives and keener insights to their studies and to their eventual leadership roles in government and society. To accomplish such a goal, Dr. Light reasoned that students should first gain foreign language ability while immersing themselves abroad. To that end, he created a fellowship that fully funds such opportunities. The Light Fellowship was created to reflect his commitment to cultural understanding through language study, especially in East Asia, where Dr. Light saw the prospect for enormous growth.

2016 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Richard U. Light Fellowship. The first awards were given to two students for study in spring term, 1997. Six more went the next summer, and ten more the following academic year. More recently, over one hundred students were sent to various language-study programs across China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea. The Fellowship has awarded over 2000 Yale students for fully funded language study. The Light Foundation also covers a substantial portion of the Fellowship's operating expenses at Yale.

Past Light Fellows include numerous Fulbright Scholarship winners, Parker Huang Traveling Fellowship winners, Rhodes and Marshall Scholarship winners, and dozens of participants in Yale-China’s service internships and two-year teaching fellowship programs, to name a few.

Tip: For more, read "The Life and Times of Richard Upjohn Light," Encore Magazine, 1980. (PDF)