When Wei “Elaine” Zhou Shen ’91 arrived at Colorado Academy in Ninth Grade, she knew little to no English. By her Senior year, the native Mandarin speaker received CA’s Award for Excellence in English.
She later earned an MBA from Harvard University and today is Senior Vice President for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.
“I wanted to succeed, and CA was tremendously helpful,” she says.
For more than two decades, Elaine has worked in finance everywhere from New York to San Francisco to Hong Kong. Along the way, she has raised a daughter, Emma, who, she’s proud to say, is a student at Cornell University and already a budding entrepreneur.
Elaine gives much credit for her own success to CA: “The school really did everything to help me.”
A teenager on her own in a new country
At age 14, Elaine left her home and parents in Beijing and traveled to her new home in Denver.
“It was the first time I had ever even been on a plane,” she says. “It was a long journey.”
Her first year in Colorado, Elaine lived with a host family. Her brother Yi “Glenn” Zhou ’86 had moved to Denver a couple of years earlier and had attended CA, but their parents remained in Beijing for another year.
So on top of being separated from family, Elaine had to start a new school, learn English, and adjust to a different culture. She remembers, in her very first CA class, understanding only a single word of the entire lesson. For her first English assignment, she turned in a blank sheet of paper.
“It was really hard,” she says, “but I didn’t really have another choice. I felt like, ‘You either do it or you go back to China.’”
By the end of her first trimester at CA, her report card showed all As.
“At CA, I had very good one-on-one help and patient teachers,” she says. “It’s really incredible how dedicated the teachers are and how they really care about your success.”
She also received support and academic tutoring from her host parents, Taru and Bill Hays, whose daughter Nina Hays, ’91 had attended CA.
“So many people helped me succeed,” she says.
A powerful career and work she loves
Elaine has come a long way from that young student who turned in a blank assignment. Today, as an executive financial services director, she advises corporate executives and large-scale entrepreneurs on how to manage their wealth.
Her expertise includes asset management, estate planning, philanthropic services, and retirement planning. Her work has taken her to major financial centers around the world. And she loves the work.
She gets a lot of person-to-person interaction, which she finds energizing. She’s fascinated by how behavior and psychology come into play in her work, as her clients make high-stakes choices. And in sharing her knowledge, she feels like she’s helping people.
“I’m very proud of being able to choose my own path in my career,” she says. “I did what I wanted to do, and now, I’m in a job I really enjoy.”
While Elaine worked hard for all she has achieved, she believes CA played a large role in her success, as well.
“There’s no way I would have accomplished all that I have without my four years at CA,” she says. “CA was my launch pad.”
A family’s dream comes true
Years before Elaine and her brother came to CA, her father had been a faculty member at the University of Denver. After that experience, he returned to China determined to send his children to high school and college in the United States.
With both Elaine and Glenn thriving at CA, his dream had become reality.
“Both my brother and I were given the great opportunity to come to the U.S. and go to such a great school, which led us to future opportunities,” she says. “My whole family has a very strong connection to CA and very much want to give back to the school.”
Elaine has found multiple ways to show her appreciation to CA for the opportunities she was given. She is a member of the Musil Society through her legacy gift to CA. In 2020, she made a gift to establish the Elaine and Emma Shen Endowment Fund.
She also contributed to the See It Through capital campaign in honor of her parents, Guangyuan Zhou and Yunshan Wu, who made her CA education possible. With her See it Through gift, Elaine recognized her parents by naming the east stairway in the Lobby of the Leach Center.
“I thought the new performing arts center was such a great cause,” says Elaine, whose first experiences in performing arts were at CA. “As a student, I did drawing, painting, and performances. I was very much shaped by my creative experiences at CA.”
A place to fall in love with learning
While she went on to a career in finance, art remains an important part of Elaine’s life. She collects art, supports museums, and joins regular local art walks.
“I have a lot of appreciation for the arts, and my education at CA definitely helped to foster that,” she says.
She remembers one Sspring Bbreak as a CA student, during which she spent the whole week painting with a professional artist at her studio. The piece she created that week still hangs in her house in San Francisco—and once, a visitor to her home offered to buy it!
In addition to academics and the arts, Elaine remembers learning about culture and cuisine at CA. And as a member of the Varsity Tennis Team, she learned about teamwork and dedication.
“That’s what CA is all about, really learning for the sake of learning,” she says. “The fact that I was able to learn and succeed at CA gave me confidence and a feeling that there were no limitations. After CA, I felt like I could do anything I wanted.”