Many students discover new passions while attending college. Zhouping Ren, or Echo as she was known by friends, was no different. After two quarters in the graduate painting program, Ren encountered a new creative outlet: metals and jewelry, and even considered switching majors.
“She was so excited about it,” said Bonnie Kubasta, a professor in metals and jewelry. “I had visions of what she could accomplish in our program by the time she would finish.”
However, Ren never finished Kubasta’s course or the school year. The international student was struck by a tour bus on April 30 while riding her bike in downtown Savannah.
Ren was transported to the Intensive Care Unit at Memorial University Medical Center where friends visited regularly. Ren’s parents, farmers from Kunming City, China, flew to Savannah to stay by Ren’s side.
By the end of June, things were looking up. Ren had been moved out of the ICU and into the Neurovascular Intermediate Care Unit (NVI) and her family began making plans to continue her treatment in China.
Friends began a local fundraiser to help the family with expenses. They gained support from SCAD and the Savannah community, including Ren’s home church.
“People from the church wanted to donate for her with their love,” said Stephanie Li, a graduate industrial design student.
According to Jeff Jones, director of International Student Services (ISSO), Ren’s insurance company was able to cover her trip home to China.
Friends were devastated to learn of her death on July 10. At the time of this publication, cause or place of death could not be confirmed.
Time at SCAD
Ren first moved to Savannah last fall after earning acceptance into the graduate painting program at SCAD.
“She and her family both had made huge sacrifices for her to be here,” said Kubasta. “What a huge leap of faith to come here and say this is where I can realize my dream.”
The international community at SCAD immediately helped Ren make Savannah her second home. Ren met Li when she was working with International Student Services. She helped Ren find a temporary place to live before moving into SCAD dorms, open a bank account and get accustomed to living in Savannah.
“Echo made a lot of good friends quickly,” said her professor, Ellen Sperling. “When she took studio classes in painting and ceramics, her circle widened further.”
This past March, when she traveled with a group of friends to New York City, her circle widened more and her love of art expanded with it.
“Echo came up at the end of the day at MOMA [the Museum Of Modern Art] and said: ‘I’m in heaven!” recalled Sperling. “So many artworks she loved, all in one place. It was a dream come true.”
Even before the visit to MOMA, her passion for art reflected in her work ethic toward her school work.
“Every day she was enthusiastic and excited and asked great questions. For an instructor, that’s really exciting,” said Kubasta.
But most friends will remember her for her upbeat and generous nature.
“She seemed to radiate warmth and kindness; she brimmed with a curious, open intelligence,” said Sperling. “Her roommate and good friend Lucy says ‘Echo was a simple and kind person. Every time when we meet some problem, if I got angry, she just laughed and made the problem easier to deal with.’”
In her own words
For Sperling, what really stood out was Ren’s spirit through her writing. She shared the following statement:
Echo became an individual for me through her journals. She had kept a journal in Chinese for a long time because she liked to ‘keep these feelings.’ Though she wrote of her own naivete, a clear voice comes through in the journals. What is art? It is anything that ‘make[s] you feel deeply touched. Maybe all art should do is to wake up our spirit from stupor.’
Her own spirit was very much awake. Her journals are full of books and films she liked, paintings she loves. Jane Austen was her favorite writer, and Elizabeth, in “Pride and Prejudice,” her heroine: how many people have the guts to say no to power and fortune? She chose her English name after a Chinese writer she admired. While still in China, Echo got international subscriptions to National Geographic and Scientific American; she like[d] to read widely: there’s too [many] things I want to know, to learn, to figure out, but I only have limited time which [does] not allow me to accomplish all the things I want to.
But her passion for painting remained a constant. Though she was considering changing her major to metals and jewelry, she told me confidently: I will always paint. I have done it for so long; I won’t stop … while I am painting, there’s nothing inside my mind except for this whole picture, no social activities, no relationship troubles, no all kinds of problems I am go through. It is a wonderful thing to let your brain blank for sometimes and just stay in really good atmosphere.
As Echo wrote her artist’s statement for the ESL graduate student exhibition, I asked her: What is this painting about? [It] is about the place of humans in the world. She searched for a word and came up with Humility. Compared to this expansive, endless universe, the human race is not that significant. Her clarity and her depth impressed me. She wore her wisdom lightly.
Echo is gone, too soon. Missing her, we struggle to understand why.
She however was prescient about the impermanence of life. We might be splendid for a time, eventually, we will become dust.
She was a shooting star, passing through our lives. We are grateful for the time we had with her.
Support at SCAD
SCAD’s office of Counseling and Student Support Services is open throughout the summer quarter for students enrolled in classes. Students can set up an appointment by calling (912) 525-6971 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those interested in contacting the family can do so through SCAD’s office of International Student Services at (912) 525-7304, email@example.com or SCAD International Student Services Office, c/o Jeff Jones, P.O. Box 3146, Savannah, Ga. 31402.