May 13, 2019
Biological sciences major Nan Zhang is the recipient of this year’s Dr. J. Paul Fugassi and Linda E. Monteverde Award. The award recognizes the graduating female senior with the greatest academic achievement and professional promise.
Zhang has shown immense academic prowess since she stepped foot on campus. She was never afraid to push her limits and tackle advanced subjects.
As a first-year student, Zhang participated in the Summer Research Institute (SRI). The program gives students interested in molecular biology and biochemistry an introduction to basic research and lab techniques; equipped with these new skills, students work in pairs on a research project provided by a faculty member. Zhang and her partner Reme Elasad— a biological sciences student from Carnegie Mellon University’s campus in Doha, Qatar — worked seamlessly on a technically complex project involving the development of enzyme mutants and purification of the resulting proteins. Zhang arrived early and stayed late to work on the project, and she spent her evenings researching academic literature for a deeper understanding of the project.
In her sophomore year, Zhang continued to strengthen her research skills in the lab of Jon Minden, professor of biological sciences. Despite initially being turned away from the lab due to lack of space, Zhang wouldn’t let that stop her from gaining more experience. Instead, she volunteered to shadow a graduate student.
“By the end of the semester Nan was doing experiments for the graduate student, not just watching. This greatly impressed me,” wrote Minden. “She has since worked in my lab as a full member, performing at a level comparable to my graduate students.” Zhang currently works independently on developing a novel method for precise isolation of proteins following 2-dimensional gel electrophoresis for analysis by mass spectrometry.
In addition to her own workload, Zhang always made time to help others as a leader in the Carnegie Mellon community. She worked with Academic Development as an EXCEL leader for two years, leading weekly learning groups and practice sessions for students in the genetics and biochemistry courses. In her senior year, Zhang filled an emergency teaching assistant opening for Director of Undergraduate Laboratories Carrie Doonan’s experimental genetics course, despite her already full schedule.
“These teaching roles provided me with the perspectives of an instructor, including learning how to organize a course, how to adapt to students at different levels and how to lead the students to reach a higher level of understanding in an interactive and interesting way,” Zhang said of her experience. “Being a peer instructor allowed me to act both as a friend and as a mentor to the students.”
Rounding out her involvement, Zhang is vice president of chapter development for Delta Delta Delta, organizing membership events for the organization’s 75 members. She was awarded the Tri Delta Foundation Scholarship in recognition of her achievements. For two years, she served as president of Spark the Movement, an organization founded to allow students to speak up about social issues through various art forms. And as a member of Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment, she meets weekly with a recently resettled refugee family in Pittsburgh to help them learn English and coordinate other needs, such as looking for work and finding medical care.
“Through my four years at Carnegie Mellon, I grew not only as a science student through academics and research, but also as a peer leader and a campus activist dedicated to diversity and inclusion through my leadership,” said Zhang.
She looks forward to taking these experiences with her as she continues her graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University in cell, developmental and cancer biology; she hopes to join the faculty of a research institute after obtaining her Ph.D.