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Remembering Tao Yu

UND community raises funds to help chemistry scholar’s parents attend funeral

Tao Yu, assistant professor of chemistry, and his parents, Kaiming Yu and Youlan Huang.

The University community lost one of its own earlier this month.

Tao Yu, assistant professor of chemistry, was just 39 when he passed away unexpectedly on June 13. Because he had no family in the U.S., his UND family stepped in to ensure his parents, Kaiming Yu and Youlan Huang, could come from China for the funeral, which was held Monday.

Members of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at UND, along with faculty colleagues, started a GoFundMe site to help pay for funeral and travel expenses. Yu’s parents are retired and were supported by Yu. His mother has advanced cancer and needs special travel accommodations.

The goal was to raise $50,000, but the generosity of donors resulted in more than $112,000 in donations. The funds will be used to pay for travel, funeral expenses, and cancer treatments for his mother. Yu had foregone purchasing a home so he could send more funds to support them and pay for Youlan’s cancer treatments.

Remembered by friends

“Tao’s life was short, but the time he stayed in this world was wonderful,” said Julia Zhao, professor of chemistry. “His smiling face, his kindness and generosity, and his collaborative spirit will be remembered by all his friends and colleagues.”

Tao Yu

“From the first time I met Dr. Tao Yu, his enthusiasm and spark caught me,” said Alena Kubatova, professor and chair of chemistry. “He cared about all he did, his research, his teaching and most of all, about students. During his short two years at UND, he has accomplished so much and impacted all of us. I have recently connected with several students he has mentored, all admiring him for his passion and loving to work with him.”

“Tao brought much enthusiasm and joy, in addition to technical prowess and creativity, to essentially everything he did,” said Mark Hoffman, professor of chemistry and associate dean for research. “I had the privilege of chairing the search committee that recommended him for hiring, then served as his mentor and team-taught with him in his first semester at UND. I’m saddened by the untimely passing of this outstanding faculty member and all-around good guy.”

“I met Tao during his interview and I was impressed with his passion for research and teaching,” said Brad Rundquist, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “It was apparent to me that he was dedicated to student success. Tao was making great progress with his research, and he was connecting well with research networks comprised of UND and NDSU faculty and beyond. He was a talented research scholar and is one of very few faculty hires that I am aware of who worked with Arts & Sciences to develop and submit grant proposals before his official UND start date.”

“As a friend, Tao was warm, engaging, and had a giving soul, said Xusheng Wang, assistant professor of biology. “As a colleague, he was caring, supportive, and encouraging.”

A scholar and researcher

Tao Yu was born April 18, 1982, in Taiyuan of Shan Xi Province, China. He came to the United States in 2007 after finishing his undergraduate and graduate studies at Fudan University in China. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 2012. He did postdoctoral work at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, then served as an assistant professor at Tennessee Tech University.

Yu joined the UND faculty in 2019, and enjoyed research, especially theoretical and computational chemistry. He loved North Dakota and Grand Forks.

With a tremendous passion for life, he enjoyed friends and travel, said his friends. He was a sports fan and often played badminton with friends. People will remember his warm personality, kind heart, and generosity toward others. He was an inspirational figure and always acted as a big brother to new students and scholars.

An only child, Tao Yu is survived by his parents, Kaiming Yu and Youlan Huan, as well as additional family members in China.