Jacob Chi, '85
Conductor; Professor of Music, Colorado State University-Pueblo; Director of the Marquette (Mich.) Symphony
Bachelor of Arts Degree in Music
“The value system Siena was trying to teach me I think I has benefited (me) the most. Even though today I am a Chinese American, I will say I am an American now. I am an American citizen. I pay taxes. I like what Americans like. ... You can call yourself middle class, but are you a citizen or not? You (may) have a house, you have two cars, you have all this, (but) it’s what you do that is your identity. That is the most important thing.”
2009 Outstanding Alumni Award Winner
After more than 25 years, Dr. Jacob Chi is still asking that question. Former President Dr. Louis Vaccaro had the answer when he offered the Chinese musical prodigy a scholarship to come to Siena Heights.
“He said, ‘look, everybody in the world deserves an opportunity. I thought you were the best (person) to receive it.’ ”
The youngest concertmaster in the Beijing Opera Company’s history at age 17, Chi was a 28-year-old accomplished violinist and composer when he arrived at Siena Heights.
He already had immense musical talent, however, there were some things he didn’t have that Siena Heights could provide.
Following the path to America and Siena Heights that his aunts, Margaret and Jane, took, Chi spent his early days on campus learning the English language.
With the yen, the Chinese currency, about 1/8 the value of the American dollar at the time, Chi said money was always a priority. Along with the scholarship he received, Chi worked as a dish washer in the school cafeteria 20 hours a week to help pay his expenses.
Graduating magna cum laude from Siena Heights, Chi was a standout in the classroom. However, it was the lessons he learned outside the classroom that remain with him today.
“The value system Siena was trying to teach me I think I has benefited the most,” Chi said. “Even though today I am a Chinese American, I will say I am an American now. I am an American citizen. I pay taxes. I like what Americans like. ... You can call yourself middle class, but are you a citizen or not? You (may) have a house, you have two cars, you have all this, (but) it’s what you do that is your identity. That is the most important thing.”
And Chi is doing plenty. He is currently professor of music at Colorado State University-Pueblo, where he also is the director of the Pueblo Symphony and the Marquette (Mich.) Symphony. He also is a guest conductor at musical productions around the world, and applauds Siena Heights’ renewed focus on bringing international students to campus.
“Is it the right thing to do?” Chi said. “I would say, yes, it’s the right thing to do because now we call it a global economy. As a higher education institution we have to take the challenge.”
Nearly 30 years after arriving at Siena Heights, Chi is still grateful for the opportunity Dr. Vaccaro gave him.
“I asked (Dr. Vaccaro), ‘What do I have to do to thank you for this?’” Chi said. “He said, ‘Be a god person.’ I think this is Americanism. Now I tell people that who I am helping. I am passing it on.”