Make the campus ‘feel like home’
That’s the advice this year’s University Medalist offers to new undergrads
| 28 April 2004
One might expect some keep-your-nose-to-the-grindstone advice from Margaret Ann-Chia Chow, winner of this year’s University Medal, the top honor a graduating senior can receive.
After all, during her four years at Berkeley she has earned top grades while majoring in economics and molecular and cell biology, edited a scholarly journal, and helped prepare disadvantaged students for the SAT.
Yet this 21-year-old took time not just to study, but to enjoy life. She was up on water skis at Lake Tahoe, tried surfing off Santa Cruz and San Diego, sailed at the Berkeley Marina, shopped at the local farmers’ market, played sports with friends at neighborhood parks, and watched free movies in Wheeler Auditorium.
With careful time management that doesn’t over-allot hours for sleeping, Chow says, newcomers to Berkeley can do well academically and still have time for fun, make new friends, and explore the diversity of the campus and the Bay Area. “Make this campus yours” is her mantra for new students. “Make this campus feel like home.”
Another tip from Chow: Be open to where life takes you. “Honestly, don’t worry so much about what major you are or what path you might take,” she said during a break at the Free Speech Movement Café. “Things will change. Your interests will change, and time will influence so many things.”
Parents who didn’t lay out the law
That’s the way it happened for Chow, who entered Berkeley in fall 2000, one of about 50 graduates of Mission San Jose High School in Fremont. Her mother, a homemaker, and her father, an immigration attorney, had urged her only sibling, an older brother, to study law. But they had no specific academic admonishments for her. Chow admits she had no particular goals for herself when she arrived on campus, enrolling instead in introductory classes in a range of subjects before deciding to blend science and humanities. She likes both because they teach different ways of thinking and approaching problems.
Her involvement with Berkeley Scientific Journal, an undergraduate publication, began with the submission of two articles: one about depression and biochemical explanations for it, and the other dealing with space-travel-induced physiological changes in humans. When Chow stepped up to become the journal’s features editor, she pushed her writers to explore the economic and political impacts of new developments in energy efficiency, not just the technical aspects.
This year, while serving as BSJ’s editor-in-chief, she took part in initiating the Publications’ Association at Berkeley, a newly developing forum for undergraduate publications. The group meets to discuss issues such as distribution and printing, and has as a goal to bargain collectively for lower prices in order to keep journals afloat in a time of budget cuts.
Jack Kirsch, professor of molecular and cell biology and of chemistry, supervised Chow’s work in his MCB lab, where she frequently put in long hours of experimentation. In a letter recommending Chow for the University Medal, Kirsch called her “an unusually remarkable student, who has shown outstanding judgment and prowess both in the classroom and in her research.”
Ultimately, Chow wants to blend her interests in law and science to address issues with broad social implications, maybe focusing on bioethics.
Chow will speak at the 2004 Commencement Convocation on Thursday, May 13. In addition to the honor of being chosen University Medalist, she will receive a $2,500 scholarship.