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Yao 'Glenn' Zhao

Yan Zhao was named to the third team of USA Today’s 2009 All-USA College Academic Team. He was recognized for organizing a benefit concert on campus last fall to raise funds for victims of last summer’s earthquake in his native China.


Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in China and moved to the United States seven years ago. I knew very little English when I came, and often went to the wrong classes during my first few weeks in high school because I couldn’t read my schedule.

What are your plans after graduation?

I am attending Wake Forest University School of Medicine in the fall, and will commit the next four years to the Carpenter Library and Baptist Hospital.

Have your plans changed over the last four years?

I came to Wake Forest with the goal of attending medical school. Biology has always been an interest, and is also most related to medicine. The research with Dr. Erik Johnson in the biology department further affirmed my goal of studying biology as my major.

How have you grown during the last four years?

One of my most memorable experiences has been community service. It allowed me to look outside my own bubble and to see the problems in the community. After being a student tutor at Moore Elementary School and serving as an EMT, I learned to be empathetic to others’ struggles instead of just my own. The community service opportunities really helped me mature.

Why did you choose Wake Forest?

Because it is one of the most prestigious institutions in the country. During my visit to Wake Forest, I fell in love with the campus and was impressed by the friendliness of the professors and the students. I am grateful that the Reynolds Foundation and Wake Forest offered me a Reynolds Scholarship, because otherwise I would not have been able to afford to attend Wake Forest.

What was your favorite class?

Vertebrate physiology. My interest in medicine led me to major in biology, but often the subjects in biology are about molecular and cellular processes. The vertebrate physiology, taught by Dr. Hugo Lane, connected the material in class to real-world scenarios and that helped me to understand body responses in ways that are relevant to medicine.

Who has influenced you most?

My father and my research professor Dr. Erik Johnson in the biology department. My father taught me to be committed to whatever task I set my mind to and also taught me to be humble. During the four years that I worked in his research lab, I learned from Dr. Johnson the true meanings of determination, optimism and thirst for knowledge, and I hope to continue to carry these qualities with me to medical school. (I also learned to dissect fruit fly brains well.)

Did you conduct research with any of your professors?

I conducted research under the guidance of Dr. Johnson for four years. Working in his lab has been one of my most valuable experiences at Wake Forest. He not only taught me how to think critically as a scientist, but also demonstrated the true marks of a professional. I am indebted to him for all the valuable lessons he taught me that helped me succeed at Wake Forest.

What was your most meaningful extra-curricular experience?

I went on a mission trip to New Orleans that reaffirmed my aspiration to serve the community. Furthermore, the trip helped me realize what a big difference we can make in another person’s life by taking the time to help rebuild a house that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The little things we do can accumulate to become something extraordinary.

What makes a Wake Forest education unique?

The curriculum at Wake Forest will prepare a student successfully for his or her future career, but more importantly, it molds a student to become a leader in society and to make a positive impact on others.

What’s your favorite Wake Forest tradition?

Rolling the Quad after each basketball and football victory, especially during 2006 when we won the ACC championship in football.

What will you miss most about Wake Forest?

I will miss my professors and friends at Wake Forest who have been a tremendous source of support that helped me succeed. I could not have done it without their advice, comfort and support.

Words of advice for incoming freshmen …

Do something that makes a positive impact on others, whether it is serving lunch at a homeless shelter, spending time with physically challenged children, or volunteering at a hospital. Be a difference-maker.