Qianqian Shao Named 2023 DEI Recognition Awardee

2023 DEI Project Leader Recognition Highlight
By Melissa Leyden and Hannah Musgrove
UVA ChemSciComm
Qianqian Shao
Rising 4th year graduate student
Hunt Laboratory

In August of 2022, the Department of Chemistry’s Division for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion launched an ongoing DEI-related leadership fellowship for the Chemistry Graduate and Postdoctoral Program. With the assistance of Professors Brent Gunnoe (Graduate Studies) and Rebecca Pompano (DDEI), this program was created to allow students to implement DEI initiatives within the department and the surrounding community.

Pompano mentioned that through this program, the DDEI and Chemistry Graduate Studies program aim to empower and support graduate students in efforts to create the change they would like to see. She hopes that in the future, the DEI Project Leader Fellowships will continue to inspire more students by providing support in creating innovative inclusive outreach and programming.

This year, the department recognized Qianqian Shao as DEI Project Leader for her initiative in creating the Outreach to Female First-Generation Immigrants.

Qianqian receiving her certificate of recognition from Assoc. Prof. Rebecca Pompano on behalf of the Department of Chemistry.


Melissa Leyden, for ChemSciComm, had the opportunity to speak with Qianqian for her perspective on this outreach event:

Please give a brief summary of the event you organized:
I invited female students who are first generation immigrants and interested in chemistry from Annandale High School (AHS) to visit the Chemistry department at UVA. The students and teachers were engaged in “inquiry-based learning” by observing general chemistry lab. They enjoyed lunch with undergraduate students in the UVA dining hall, followed by a campus tour. Additionally, they were introduced to Mass Spectrometry in the Hunt lab.”

What inspired you to pursue this idea?
Although UVA has many international students, it does not have many students who are first-generation immigrants. It is rare for the latter to attend UVA, and many cease education after high school. I believe this is a loss for them and the country. I grew up in a neighborhood where most people are first-generation immigrants coming from underdeveloped countries. Their families do not speak English and they came from countries with limited opportunities. They feel they can’t reach out for help, either because of the language barrier, or because they don’t realize there are opportunities that exist in the USA.

When I was in middle school and high school, most of my Hispanic and black friends weren’t planning to go to college after high school. One day, one of my Hispanic classmates stopped by and told me that she wanted to do what I was doing — taking college level courses, studying for SAT and applying to UVA — but that she gave up eventually because her family cannot afford college and she felt lost taking this path.   

I felt that the outcome might be different if these students were exposed directly to the reality of UVA. Such exposure could turn UVA into an attainable dream rather than something that only exist in the imagination.”

Were there any outcomes that surprised you?
“When I began to plan this project, I was thinking that something bigger needs to be done in order to help these students. I was not certain, whether what I did is enough to make an impact. Compared to what they face, what I did is a small offering. Yet the students said this experience was very memorable to them and made an impact on their decision of going to college and applying to UVA.”

What were some of the challenges you overcame while leading this event?
“I think I did a small thing, and there aren’t any challenges for me to overcome, compared to what the high school students must overcome to make it to UVA.”

What was the most memorable or rewarding part of the event?
“After the event, I received postcards from the students telling me how happy they are and how this event impacts their choices for college.”

What does being a part of DEI mean to you?
“It means that I survived my own struggle and have the spare energy to help the others, and it means the powerlessness of seeing their struggle is alleviated.”

Do you have any advice for other students who may be considering pursuing other projects to promote DEI in the department?
“I would advise them not to hesitate to implement their ideas even if they think the ideas are small.
There are a lot of limitations in large institutions, like the state level, and also at UVA level, where a change cannot be made easily, yet small choices made by individuals sometimes have more freedom and power to make UVA and this country better.”

What future DEI events or opportunities would you like to see?
“I would like to see first-generation immigrant students given more opportunity to implement their ideas.”

Is there anything else you would like to share about the event?

“This is definitely teamwork, and I want to thank everyone for their support. I would like to first thank Julissa Velasquez who introduced me to this opportunity. I would like to thank Dr. Pompano and Dr. Gunnoe for helping me throughout this event yet also giving me the freedom and independence to do what I wished to accomplish. I would like to thank Jan and Dr. Morkowchuk for letting the high school students observing their general chemistry lab. I would also like to thank general chemistry lab TAs Weikai and Alex for explaining concepts and introducing the lab to the students.

I would like to thank undergraduate volunteers Nel, Ritika, Vy, Emily, Kelsey, and Andrew, for joining us for lunch and leading the campus tour for the high school students and teachers.

I would like to thank the Hunt Lab for letting me host and present my research to the students and teachers.

I would like to thank Ms. Hedrick, Ms. Hsia and Ms. Rothe for organizing the high school students, and driving the students to UVA.

I had a meeting with AHS during the COVID pandemic to learn information about the students and figure out what I can do to help them. I also would like to thank Dr. Eqab and Mr. Centeno-Monroy for contributing their ideas and thoughts during the meeting and I would like to thank my former high school counselor Ms. Shaffer for communication and connections.

I would also like to thank my former high school teacher Mr. Hawes. Mr. Hawes is the opposite and perfect mirror of me, he helps me see through things from pure logic while I get emotional about the unfair treatment and struggle of the people. Both perspectives are important for transition from inspiration to practical implementation of the idea for this event. In addition to my experience working with people from multicultural backgrounds, Mr. Hawes’ missions overseas as foreign service officer inspires me to think through problems from different depth---from commonfolk to state level, from past to present. “

If you are a graduate student with an idea for a DDEI initiative you would like to see in the department, the DEI Project Leader Fellowship is taking rolling applications and the next call for proposals will be sent out prior to the Fall 2023 semester. Please contact Brett Gunnoe (tbg7h) and Rebecca Pompano (rrp2z) for more details.