Neuroscience, newsprint, and knitting: Pierson’s Karena Zhao

Among Zhao’s accomplishments while at Yale she was the senior editor of production and design for the print edition of the Yale Daily News.
Karena Zhao

Karena Zhao

Karena Zhao was 5 years old when she decided she wanted to be a doctor, although she had no idea what the profession involved. Now that she is graduating from Yale with a B.S. in neuroscience and hands-on experience in the medical field, she said, “I realize my 5-year-old self was correct.”

Zhao came to Yale from Edmond, Oklahoma, planning to major in the biological sciences. She quickly switched to psychology — a change she credits to Yale’s “shopping period,” when undergraduates can sample classes before registering. She ultimately decided to major in neuroscience, which is “a place between psychology and medicine,” she said.

Yale does biological science very well and social science very well, and I was able to take off from both departments.” 

Outside of the classroom, Zhao got first-hand experience in her future field while volunteering at Connecticut Hospice and the New Haven Free Clinic. She welcomed visitors to campus as a Yale College tour guide and introduced incoming students to New Haven — especially areas outside of campus — as director of the FOCUS first-year orientation program. On a whim, she accompanied a friend to a Yale Daily News meeting one night, and stayed on to become senior editor of production and design for the print edition of the student-run newspaper. An avid knitter, who confesses to owning too much yarn to store in her current space, Zhao was president of Knit One Give One, whose members donate their creations to local non-profits.

A group of people in Pierson Courtyard.
Karena Zhao (back row sixth from left) is pictured with other aides and staff in the office of the Pierson Head of College.

At Pierson — “the best residential college at Yale,” the senior asserts — Zhao has been an aide in the Head of College Office, chair of student activities, president of the College Council, and member of a search committee for a new Pierson dean. As the inaugural Yale College Council director for residential colleges, Zhao focused on college-wide issues, including the sudden need to find storage spaces for students. She also studied Mandarin in Beijing via a Light Fellowship. 

And she has a near-perfect grade point average.

Zhao will study at Cornell Medical School next year. She’s not sure yet what specialty she’ll choose, but said her plans include working in medical education. What she most looks forward to in her future profession, she said, is “working with people, my patients, and students — building relationships with them. That is definitely something I want to do.”

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