Mizzou alumni, founders of Panda Express, pledge $5 million to MU Honors College

The gift will support scholarships, programs for high-achieving students.

Peggy and Andrew Cherng

July 10, 2024
Contact: Janese Heavin, heavinj@missouri.edu

The Panda Charitable Family Foundation, under the direction of University of Missouri alumni Andrew and Peggy Cherng, has committed $5 million to the MU Honors College to support premier scholarships and programming for talented and motivated students.

The Cherngs are founders, co-chairs and co-chief executive officers of the Panda Restaurant Group, Inc., which owns the Panda Express chain of restaurants. The pledge brings their total giving to Mizzou to more than $10 million.

“We’re grateful to Andrew and Peggy Cherng for their incredible, ongoing support of MU Honors students,” said University of Missouri President Mun Choi. “This latest investment in student success allows us to provide even more impactful opportunities through our Honors College and to secure Mizzou’s spot as one of the top public universities in the nation for future leaders.”

Andrew Cherng earned a master’s degree in applied mathematics from Mizzou’s College of Arts and Science. Peggy Cherng earned a master’s degree in computer science and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the MU College of Engineering.

“The education we each received from Mizzou was instrumental to our success, and we hope this gift will provide additional tools to prepare the best students in the state and nation for transformational career opportunities,” the Cherngs said. “We are delighted to continue to support one of the nation’s best colleges and to provide resources to improve lives and train future leaders.”   

Enhancing educational experiences

Funding from the Panda Charitable Family Foundation has helped enable the Honors College to provide a premier educational experience to thousands of students seeking a transformational learning environment at the University of Missouri. 

“This pledge will allow the Honors College to expand our scholarship offerings and programming innovations,” said Catherine Rymph, dean of the Honors College. “I’m especially excited to be able to increase the number of scholarships that provide students with hands-on experiences, such as research, internships and service learning, and to launch additional need-based scholarships.”

The original gift from the Cherngs to the Honors College in 2017 was a catalyst that allowed the college to develop new experiences for students.

Since 2017, funding from the Panda Charitable Family Foundation has supported Show-Me Scholars, awarded to first-year Honors students from Missouri; Cherng Scholars, awarded to out-of-state Honors students; Panda-Mizzou Scholars, awarded to students pursuing education or health-related majors; and Cherng Summer Scholars, a program that allows Honors students to participate in individually designed research projects over nine weeks in the summer.

Every year, the Honors College also invites a prominent guest to campus through the Cherng Distinguished Scholars and Visiting Faculty series. Distinguished speakers spend several days on campus engaging with Honors students and faculty, visiting classrooms and providing a public lecture. Last spring, Andrew Leland — whose book, “The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight” was named a 2024 Pulitzer Prize finalist — served as the Cherng Distinguished Scholar Keynote Lecture.

“The Cherngs have been catalysts for the Honors College,” said Jackie Lewis, vice chancellor for advancement. “As Mizzou continues to champion student experiences and educate future leaders, the continued support of the Cherngs empowers us to continue pushing forward.”

Under the Cherngs’ leadership, Panda Restaurant Group was named one of America’s best employers by Forbes and was ranked the top Asian quick-service concept for seven consecutive years by restaurant industry publication QSR Magazine. The Cherngs have also been inducted into the National Restaurant Association Hall of Fame.

In addition to supporting Mizzou, the Cherngs are committed to giving back to communities where Panda restaurants operate. The Panda Cares Foundation is a philanthropic effort that has donated millions to nonprofit organizations, schools and children’s hospitals since its founding in 1999.

The MU Honors College enrolls around 2,700 students and has more than 13,000 alumni. Eight core faculty and nearly 80 affiliate faculty, along with additional professors who lead departmental Honors classes, help teach the more than 270 Honors courses offered every year.

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