The University of Chicago held a memorial on Thursday afternoon for Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng, the recent graduate who was killed during an armed robbery earlier this month.
The 24-year-old completed a master's degree in statistics earlier this year. He was from China’s Sichuan province and attended the University of Hong Kong. During his time at the U. of C., he served as a teaching assistant at the Booth School of Business and the Harris School of Public Policy, and planned to become a data scientist.
Zheng’s parents, Rong Li and Xiaodong Zheng, attended the service, which was held at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.
Zheng was shot and killed on Tuesday, Nov. 9 at 54th Place and South Ellis Avenue. Police arrested Alton Spann and charged him with first-degree murder later that week.
At the memorial service, university President Paul Alivisatos remembered Zheng as “a talented and passionate student, a proud graduate of the University of Chicago and a cherished friend to many members of our community.”
“This university has welcomed and benefited from the presence of international scholars and students like Dennis, and in particular those from China. Since our earliest years, our commitment to the community of scholars from China remains as strong as ever,” he said. “As we face this tragedy together. I want to acknowledge that Dennis's loss has been deeply felt by the students, parents, friends, and alumni from China.”
Dan Nicolae, chair of the statistics department at the U. of C., worked with Zheng on his master’s thesis, which combined machine learning and gene regulation. Nicolae recalled proposing a particular problem in network theory to Zheng and discovering, at their follow-up meeting a few weeks later, that he had “made significant progress on a research problem that was very different from the one I suggested, one that was more challenging and better suited to his research interests.”
Nicolae described Zheng as the “unofficial tour guide” of the statistics department, and said that he “was not only a promising scholar, but a wonderful person as well.”
Bruce D. Meyer, a professor at the Harris School of Public Policy, taught a class this spring quarter for which Zheng served as the teaching assistant. Meyer shared remembrances from several of his students — one said that Zheng had gone out of his way to schedule separate meetings with her, since the fact that she was taking the class from India made attending regular discussion sections difficult.
“Two of the students in the class were so inspired they contacted me about being teaching assistants this year for the same class,” said Meyer. “The life of Dennis Zheng shows us that even a young person can have a lot of impact on others. He certainly did.”
Zheng’s mother also spoke, as did a representative from the Chinese consulate in Chicago and U. of C. Provost Ka Yee Lee.