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High school dropout heads to law school

By : Nicole Borawski

Xiong Ni was once a high school dropout who worked in his family’s restaurant and held no plans to attend college. Now the 22-year-old senior, who also goes by the name Steven, will graduate with honors, a degree in economics and an acceptance into George Washington Law School in Washington, D.C.

Ni, who was born in China, moved to New York City when he was 10. His parents and three younger brothers now live in Statesville, N.C. The transition to the United States was difficult at first for Ni, who spoke Mandarin Chinese. In New York’s Chinatown, most people spoke Cantonese or English.

Ni didn’t take an interest in academics. “I would work 72 hours a week at my parents’ restaurant, so it was difficult to stay on task and study and keep my mind stimulated,” he said.

When Ni’s parents decided to move to a Chicago suburb, he had to spend his junior and senior year of high school playing catch up.

“It was a much more rigorous school district, and I questioned if I could really do this, but I finally overcame my inertia,” Ni said. 

Ni heard about Binghamton when the school called some out-of-state students, including him. The name remained in the back of his mind, and he liked that Binghamton was diverse and had rolling admissions. His parents also encouraged him to pursue higher education.

“Coming to college, I had a lot of questions about the values of the market, tensions of free market and ethical concerns of others,” Ni said. “Everyone says that economics is a bad thing that keeps the wealthy rich, so I wanted to learn more about how economics works as a method-ology and how it tells how society works.”

Ni’s honors thesis, titled “Investigating the Affect of Cultural Values of Education Attainment,” examines the stereotype that Asians always excel in academics.

“Asian culture places an emphasis on education and Confucius thought,” Ni said. “My parents rely on me to take care of them when I’m older so there is a greater stake in subsidizing my education, and I am seeing whether this is a factor for the stereotype.”

Edward Kokkelenberg, professor of economics, worked with Ni in the J.C. Liu Honors Thesis program for the past two semesters. “Competition in the program is intense, in terms of who is outstanding,” he said. “All of the students have 3.8 or 3.9 GPA.”

The two-semester program includes a research design in the fall and a thesis in the spring. The program began with 10 students and will finish with six, Kokkelenberg said.

“Steven is very energetic, and writing an honors thesis is difficult because you need that self-motivation,” Kokkelenberg said. “He is competing in a good group.”

Last fall, Ni was a member of the College Fed Challenge team. He presented a monetary policy proposal and gave market indicators in front of the president of the Buffalo branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. He also served on the University judicial board and debate team.

In addition, Ni participated in the 2005 PricewaterhouseCoopers xTAX competition. “In our team of five, we were given a package proposal with a hypothetical country and hypothetical problems,” said Ni, whose team came in second place locally. “We had to evaluate the proposal, decide if it was a good idea, research and find alternate solutions and then make a 10-minute polished presentation.”

Ni, who plans to study international law, said he considers it a privilege to have attended college. “I have tried to learn all the facets I could here and get really involved,” he said. “Now I am going to focus on giving back to society and making myself a useful member of it.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08