Remembering Shaoxiong ‘Dennis’ Zheng, SM’21, Devoted Scholar and Friend, 1997-2021

Shaoxiong ‘Dennis’ Zheng

November 17, 2021

Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng, a recent graduate of the University of Chicago master’s program in statistics, is being remembered by the UChicago community and friends as a passionate student and a generous friend.

Zheng, SM’21, was shot and killed during a robbery in Hyde Park on Nov. 9. He was 24. The University will hold a memorial service at 3 p.m. CT Nov. 18 (5 a.m. HKT Nov 19) at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, which will be broadcast on the UChicago News website.

The University of Chicago Yuen Campus Hong Kong  will be opened to members of the UChicago Community as well as friends from The University of Hong Kong daily from Nov 19 to Nov 23 (11am to 4pm).  A recording of the memorial service will be available for viewing and a guest book will also be available for sharing written memories and condolences to be shared later with the family. No prior RSVP required for these visits. 

“The entire University community is heartbroken,” said President Paul Alivisatos.

“In addition to being a University alum, he was a loving son and caring friend to many in our community and many more around the world,” added Provost Ka Yee C. Lee.

Born in Sichuan Province, China, Zheng attended college at the University of Hong Kong. As a student in UChicago’s Department of Statistics, he used machine learning for inferring gene regulatory networks. He received his master’s degree this past June and wanted to be a data scientist, colleagues said.

“Dennis was a bright and talented student, who was dedicated in his pursuit of knowledge,” said Prof. Dan Nicolae, chair of the Department of Statistics, who collaborated with Zheng on his research thesis. “He was not only a promising scholar but also a wonderful person, always willing to help other students. He will be missed by all who knew him.”

Faculty and friends alike remembered Zheng for his ever-present smile, his constant optimism and thoughtfulness, and his willingness to help others. Nan Jiang, a close friend from high school, said Zheng always took time to encourage those around him. “Every time you asked him a question, he tried his best to help you. I think he spent a lot of time on that,” Jiang said. “No matter what, he always had an encouraging word. And I think that wasn’t just for me. It was everyone he has had contact with.”

President Paul Alivisatos shared a video message on Nov. 10 with the University community following the incident. Alivisatos urged the University and its neighbors on the South Side of Chicago to come together ‘with purpose and creativity’ to address the problem of violence in the city.

President Paul Alivisatos and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee said the University is taking seriously the challenges that face an urban campus, with Lee sharing her experiences and concerns as a parent who has lived in Hyde Park for years during a Nov. 11 webinar. She also mentioned an upcoming event with a senior Chicago Police Department official, which will include a live question-and-answer session.

Eric Heath, associate vice president for safety and security, outlined specific steps that the University has taken and will be taking to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those who study, teach and work on campus, as well as visitors and local residents.