Wharton and Engineering senior Kevin Zhao died over winter break while traveling with his family in China, according to an email sent to Wharton undergraduates. He was 21.
Zhao died peacefully in his sleep due to cardiac arrest, said family friend Charles Fisher, speaking on behalf of the Zhao family. A memorial service will be held for Zhao on Jan. 18 at 3:00 p.m. in Bodek Lounge in Houston Hall, Fisher said in an email.
Zhao’s parents, Jay and Lin Zhao , recalled their son to be a “remarkable and gifted young man” who had an “inspiring sense of curiosity, especially when it came to science.”
At Penn, Zhao was on the board of the Wharton China Business Society. According to his LinkedIn account, he was also a research assistant at Wharton and a teaching assistant for CIS 120 in fall 2011.
It was “always important to him to not only help his parents and family, but also to do good things for others,” Jay and Lin said in a statement provided by Fisher.
Zhao’s parents said that their son would often go out of his way to take care of his younger sister, Kathryn, and “help her with whatever she needed.”
He “strived to use his knowledge in ways that would benefit society because he cared greatly for bettering the lives of all people,” Jay and Lin Zhao’s statement said.
Last summer, he was a product intelligence management intern at Yammer, a social networking site for companies. The past academic year, he worked for Urban Outfitters as an operations and customer analytics intern.
College senior Seaver Wang, who was Zhao’s friend since freshman year, remembers him as someone whose “interests were as diverse as his talents.”
“He enjoyed discussing everything from history to literature to politics to food, always eager to share what he knew and learn what he didn’t,” Wang said in an email.
Wang recalled that Zhao was someone “eager” to try new things.
At Zhao’s urging, both he and Wang “hiked forest trails, visited museums, celebrated birthdays, made post-graduation plans to tour Europe and explored as many of Philadelphia’s attractions as we could,” Wang said.
Zhao’s childhood friend, Richard Zhang, remembers Kevin as “mature, respectful, and responsible.”
“He was always one of those guys who asked people out for lunch,” Wharton senior Yingnan Xu, a close friend of Zhao, said. “He would just grab you and hang and talk. You’d have a really engaged conversation about anything.”
“Kevin accomplished many things in his short life,” Zhao’s parents added. “His future was bright and his potential had no limits. His flame will forever burn brightly in our hearts.”
In high school, Zhao was a regional finalist in the 2009-2010 Siemens Competition for math and science.
“He was the most unassuming genius I have ever met,” College senior Paul Blazek, one of Zhao’s close friends, said in an email. “You would never know just from talking with him that he was so incredibly accomplished.”
Zhao is survived by his parents and his younger sister, Kathryn.