CSF Alumna Mary’s Journey: Studying How We Learn

Mary Zhuo Ke became a CSF Scholar in third grade at St. Joseph School in Manhattan’s Chinatown. After graduating from Cathedral High School, she earned a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. Recently, Mary was accepted into Penn State’s Ph.D. program for biomedical engineering, and sat down with us on Zoom to discuss how her CSF scholarship gave her access to a caring learning environment that led to a career in neuroscience and bioengineering. Here are some excerpts from her interview.

Moving to New York City: My parents, when they immigrated to the United States, were very lost, trying to find their way. But they found a lot of inspiration and guidance through the Catholic Church. They met sisters who recommended Catholic school [for me]. But they couldn’t afford it, so they weren’t sure how they were going to give me the best education possible where I would get a lot of one-on-one attention, especially since my first language wasn’t English.

Getting a CSF scholarship to attend St. Joseph School: [Until then,] I didn’t really have the most stable kind of lifestyle because I had to constantly move. Within two years, I think I moved to three different schools because my parents were looking for jobs and so on. So I didn’t really get to make friends or focus on my education as much. Once I got to the Catholic school that was funded by CSF, I really started to kind of have a family at school. Not just my parents but also my teachers became my family, and that was just so valuable to me.

Why neuroscience and bioengineering?: I was always interested in how people learn. Although I studied engineering throughout my undergrad, I realized I still had a lot of questions, specifically about the brain and taking that deeper understanding and applying those findings to building medical devices that would be really meaningful and impactful. This sounds corny, but I tried to follow my heart by just seeing what made me want to get up in the morning, and applying for this Ph.D. program was essentially the means for me to just spend all my time learning as much as possible about the research I’m interested in.

Post-Ph.D. goals: I just really enjoy the process of brainstorming and learning and, even if I fail, constantly getting up and seeing, “How do I rethink this?” So, I want to continue to do that even after the Ph.D. That could be applying for post-doc fellowships, and, along with that, finding ways to mentor young scientists, because I really find a lot of value in showing the importance of STEM to people like my sister. I want to be able to continue to tackle complex questions. So wherever I can do that is where I will go.

Click above to watch Mary’s interview.