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Class of 2019 Alum Wins Rhodes Scholarship

Class of 2019 Alum Wins Rhodes Scholarship

Feb. 23, 2023 — Julia Zhao ’19 has been named a 2023 Rhodes Scholar for China. 

Zhao is one of 120 scholars selected each year to receive a Rhodes scholarship, a fully funded, full-time, postgraduate award that enables talented young people from around the world to study at the University of Oxford. She is one of only four Rhodes scholars selected from the People's Republic of China this year. 

NMH Head of School Brian Hargrove and Julia Zhao ’19

Zhao is currently at Columbia University, where she majors in biomedical engineering with a minor in computer science. She is a member of a lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where she works on pancreatic cancer research and volunteers at a clinic. 

At Oxford, she’ll pursue two degrees: a master’s in statistics and a second master’s in medical humanities or translational health sciences. She plans to focus on the use of artificial intelligence in clinical settings as a means of increasing access to healthcare in low- and middle-income communities. 

After Oxford, Zhao intends to return to the U.S. to pursue a PhD in biomedical engineering, then become a physician scientist, studying clinical data and using machine learning to develop innovations in therapeutics, drugs, or diagnostic platforms, such as using artificial intelligence to detect diseases or using a patient’s sequenced genome to find risk factors for diseases. “I am also interested in outreach work, such as working with Doctors Without Borders or studying diseases that impact people in less-developed areas of the world,” she said.

Zhao credits NMH for her commitment to service. “Even though all Columbians are very driven, I really benefited from that sense of duty to do good in the world instilled in me at NMH,” she said. “That is something I think they look for in selecting Rhodes Scholars. They not only want people who excel in their fields, but also people who can change the world for the better.”

“Julia’s goal to use scientific study and advocacy to contribute in a meaningful way to improve the lives of others, especially those who lack access to adequate medical and health care, exemplifies the mission and values of Northfield Mount Hermon,” said Head of School Brian Hargrove. 

While at NMH, Zhao was chair of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, a peer tutor in science, and a member of the NMH Dance Companies. One of her most formative experiences at NMH, she said, was traveling with the dance companies to Ghana through a cultural immersion program in dance and drumming. “The experience motivated me,” she said. “I want to contribute to scientific advocacy and data-sharing to foster more sustainable long-term development in research in Africa, to free them from having to rely on the western world.”

Zhao is the vice president of Columbia’s Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, leads a project at Systems Biology Initiative, dances with Orchesis, and has worked in rural Uganda on outreach efforts toward improving healthcare for women, as well as increasing people’s access to solar power. She was named a 2022 Goldwater Scholar, which recognizes students interested in research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

“Julia has made such wonderful contributions to the Columbia community and beyond — we’re excited to see what she’ll do next,” Ariella Lang, associate dean of academic affairs and director of undergraduate research and fellowships, said in an announcement released by the university.

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