From "ni hao" to know-how

February 09, 2018 | GET MORE : Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

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Mandarin-speaking U.S. Banker Jeresa Hren helps Chinese students transition to life in rural Oregon.

When the new group of Chinese students and their families arrives each fall at St. Mary’s School in Medford, Ore., banker Jeresa Hren is there to greet them with a friendly “ni hao.”

The international program has grown from four to 76 students since its inception in 2011, 50 of whom are from China, most speaking Mandarin. For parents speaking little to no English, traveling halfway around the world and entrusting their 15- or 16-year-old son or daughter to someone else’s care can make for a daunting first day of school.

Hren, a U.S. Bank advisor who speaks Mandarin, volunteers to help students and families as they transition to the program and learn about the banking system in America. She maneuvers through the crowds of new arrivals with a warm smile, infectious laugh and command of the language that puts parents at ease.

“In a small town like Medford, finding a Mandarin-speaking banker who could set families at ease is a tremendous asset. [Jeresa] likes the kids and gives up her own time to do that,” said Frank Phillips, president of St. Mary’s School.

That’s just what you do when you live in a community – you get involved and you help, Hren says.

“Being a banker isn’t only about numbers,” she said. “It’s about being involved and the relationships.”

St. Mary’s is helping the community too. At the nonprofit college preparatory school, around 40 percent of the student body receives financial aid and the school boasts a 100 percent college attendance rate.  

“Not only do these kids get a great education, they get a cross-cultural competency in a way that they could just never get in any other high-school environment,” said Phillips. “It’s really remarkable.”

After starting the international program, the school began to think about the growth of the program and improvements such as updating classrooms and adding a cafeteria and dormitory.

Financing such an expansion wasn’t simple.

Knowing that it would take work to articulate to underwriters the concept of establishing an international program in a small rural community, the school’s leaders looked to Jeresa for help.

“There aren’t many private schools in America doing what we were doing and we really needed help in expanding,” Phillips said. “Without Jeresa’s willingness to go to bat for us, this could have been a great idea that languished and never went anywhere.”

With the financing from U.S. Bank approved, the school is well underway with construction of the new facilities.

And you’ll find Jeresa all around the school, walking the halls with students, greeting parents and even checking up on the construction process. She’s part of the school community.

She’s proud that it’s all happening in Medford.

“The most important thing is we want the community where we work to be thriving and to be successful.”

Jennifer Fredrick works in public affairs and communications at U.S. Bank.