The University of Iowa

From Lanzhou, China, to Iowa City, Iowa: Zhiting Feng reflects on his undergraduate academic career

April 29th, 2019
Image of Zhiting Feng

Zhiting ("Jack") Feng

Name: Zhiting ("Jack") Feng

Hometown: Lanzhou, China

Field of study: double major in biochemistry and ethics & public policy

Campus Leadership & Involvement Highlights

  • Undergraduate research assistant, MacGillivray Lab
  • At-large senator, University of Iowa Student Government
  • Undergraduate research assistant, Eugenics Legacies Lab
  • Early Scholar, UI Certificate in Clinical & Translational Science
  • Research member, Health Advancement Equity Lab
  • Ambassador, Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates
  • Integrated Testing Services (ITS) testing intern, Johnson County Public Health
  • Fellow, Latham Science Engagement Fellowship program
  • Service-learner, UI College of Public Health Xicotepec Project 2018
  • Campus liaison, IC RED
  • College Transition Workshop leader
  • Dancer & fundraiser, Dance Marathon 23
  • Residence hall front desk clerk
  • Chemistry tutor, UI Residence Education Program
  • OnIowa! 2016 Leader

How did you choose the University of Iowa?

I have been interested in the health sciences since high school. I decided to choose the University of Iowa because of its great academic reputation and various valuable learning opportunities in this area of interest. I was thrilled to be a part of the University of Iowa’s world-class health science curriculum. Additionally, as a big public institution, the University of Iowa has always been committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion by providing historically-marginalized student groups with the necessary resources to succeed. Because of this, I knew that I would succeed and ultimately become a part of Iowa’s legacy that has promoted community health on the frontline for the state of Iowa for decades.

The greatest aspect of the academic environment at the University of Iowa is that it is more cooperative than competitive.

What are some of your favorite things about the University of Iowa?

From the start of my academic journey, I took notice of the approachable faculty and staff that I met and networked with. The greatest aspect of the academic environment at the University of Iowa is that it is more cooperative than competitive. During my freshman year, I gained confidence while taking General Chemistry I with Dr. Russell Larsen because I made a valiant effort to visit his office hours and to regularly seek help from tutoring resources on campus, such as the Chemistry Resources Center, Residence Tutoring Program, Math Tutorial Lab, and Supplemental Instruction. Having all of these resources available to me at the start of my academic career has provided me with a strong foundation for completing my minor in chemistry. Additionally, I have gained an incredible amount of support from my academic advisors and the Career Center staff. Overall, the kindness, patience, and generosity that faculty and staff exuded always inspired me to be more actively engaged in learning to achieve my educational goals regardless of potential language barriers. 

One of the nicest things about this college town is its friendly and supportive vibe within the local community. I have expanded my horizons and knowledge outside the classroom because of various learning opportunities rising within the local community. As an intern for the Integrated Testing Services program at Johnson County Public Health, I assisted local health professionals with HIV screenings and worked to improve the reach of health care among underserved communities. I met with different groups of at-risk populations and learned more about the unique obstacles facing different vulnerable communities when seeking care. This field experience in public health supported by the local health department has solidified my intentions to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Health with a concentration of epidemiology in the fall. Another example is my volunteering experience in a local public health organization- Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition. I was able to meet people where they are and provide them with necessary education regarding safer injection practices, Hep-C, HIV, and overdose prevention. I have gained more knowledge and hands-on skills in advocating for harm reduction practices in public health. Overall, local community groups, organizations, and partners are committed to supporting students’ growth and success by offering a wide range of opportunities to learn and engage.

The hashtag “#HawkHelpsHawk” is the daily reality where I live. I have grown and learned so much from my peers, friends, and colleagues on this campus. I feel empowered by the sense of the Hawkeye community where we support one another and build bridges. I am inspired by the incredible individuals who have worked so hard to pave the way for my growth and success on this campus.

Would you recommend the University of Iowa to other international students? If so, why?

Yes, absolutely. I would not trade anything for my four-year experience at the University of Iowa. I am eternally grateful to the University of Iowa for long-term academic support and investment in my future by providing a wide range of academic resources and opportunities that all students can take advantage of. You can literally gain everything from this place: professional development, academic success, lifetime friendships and valuable social connections, leadership improvement, and a better sense of global awareness and civic engagement and so much more. I am thankful for the University of Iowa faculty and staff who put their great faith and commitment to helping students thrive and succeed. The meaningful networks that I have built with my peers, faculty, staff, and local community members will immensely benefit me in the future. I look forward to a day in the future when I am able to come back to my roots at the University of Iowa after gaining all of the skills that I need to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic to give back to the incredible community that has made me the motivated aspiring health professional that I am today.

Overall, I am so thankful for all kinds of academic opportunities that I have been exposed to at the University of Iowa.

How do you feel the University of Iowa is helping to prepare you for the future?

The diversity and quality of the general education requirements offered by the University of Iowa have given me a profound sense of global awareness, while at the same time these requirements helped me pinpoint my passions for a future career in the health field with specialized and well-rounded knowledge and skills. I took a general education course for social science credits called Introduction to Sociology. This class was rife with thought-provoking topics and issues, which motivated me to double major in ethics & public policy. I learned about historical social movements towards social justice and equity in the United States and around the world. After every lecture and reading, I gained a deeper understanding of human society and social system mechanisms. My passion and enthusiasm for both sociology and health were challenging to balance, and I reflected on what I can do to make positive changes with both of these fields of study by choosing to enter the public health field. My inspiration to pursue public health stemmed from learning about the AIDS epidemic and its disproportionately negative impacts on the large LGBTQ community and other historically marginalized groups.

The academic opportunities that the University of Iowa has offered me have also successfully connected me outside of academia, such as with community science engagement, global health services, and local research outreach. As a Fellow for the Latham Science Engagement Initiative and Fellowship Program, I have successfully improved my science communication and organizational skills after taking a class and applying these skills to a project at the Girls Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois. This project empowered young girls to learn more about science and how it affects their daily lives. I engaged with a diverse team to ensure the project’s success. Currently, I serve as an Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates Ambassador to help undergraduate students get involved in research on campus. I strive to connect myself with the general audience by describing my ongoing undergraduate research experience in Dr. Leonard MacGillivray’s lab from the Department of Chemistry. My participation in a selective international service-learning course during my junior year showed me how public health operates when addressing a community health issue. This experience allowed me to work with a diverse interdisciplinary team on a food needs-assessment project that aimed to understand the obesity epidemic in Mexico. This service-learning experience gave me a better sense of what public health is and enhanced my understanding of working with different communities to promote population health within a global collaborative setting. Overall, I am so thankful for all kinds of academic opportunities that I have been exposed to at the University of Iowa.

How did you get involved with undergraduate research?

I reached out to multiple faculty members from the Department of Chemistry and Department of Biochemistry. I set up meetings to talk about my research interests with those who responded. Ultimately, I decided to work for Dr. MacGillivray after these important discussions. Regarding the research that I am doing in the College of Public Health, I noticed some potential opportunities via the college-wide newsletter. So I reached out to Dr. Paul Gilbert to join Health Equity Advancement Lab and Dr. Nicole Novak to work on the eugenic sterilization project.

I have worked in Dr. MacGillivray's lab for more than a year and a half. My efforts apply crystal engineering methods towards improving reactivity in the organic solid-state in the field of supramolecular chemistry. In the lab, I mainly work on performing organic solid-state research primarily on boron compounds in the form of synthesis and characterization. My research also incorporates the green chemistry principles coupled with the basic mechanism of [2+2] photocycloaddition. Currently, I am working on a project that aims to rearrange and improve the bioavailability of HIV drugs through crystal engineering methods.

I also work in the Eugenic Legacies Lab mentored by Dr. Novak in the College of Public Health. I am a part of the team on a multi-institution research project that aims to understand the history of sterilization in Iowa through epidemiologic, qualitative, and historical methods. Additionally, I am involved with the Health Equity Advancement Lab in the College of Public Health. Currently, I am working on a group case study project that incorporates the HEAL Principles to study how climate change affects agricultural practices thus affecting the livelihood of migrant workers.

Do you have any favorite American foods that you’ve discovered? If so, what are they?

Buffalo Mac & Cheese from Buffalo Wild Wings.

Where is your favorite place to study on campus?

Hardin Science Library.

Image of Zhiting Feng and his mother
Zhiting and his mother, Huiling Yue, who visited Iowa City to celebrate his graduation from the UI

Do you ever get homesick for your home country?

My undergraduate experience as a first-generation, English-as-a-Second-Language, international student was initially perplexing and intimidating. One of the most significant obstacles was first-year homesickness. The excitement of moving away from home and living abroad by myself for the first time did not last long; instead, I was heavily struck with homesickness. Simply facetiming with my parents did not actually mitigate my obsessive thoughts about home. My initial failure to cope with homesickness aggravated my mental health and overall well-being. Despite my concerns for discomfort when seeking help, with tremendous and valiant effort, I ultimately got out of my comfort zone and overcame this barrier. I started visiting Student Health & Wellness and seeking counseling at University Counseling Services to obtain more effective coping strategies. I was advised that I should start getting involved with some organizations and building meaningful connections on campus. It turns out that it worked well. I participated in an international program called Friends Without Borders to learn more about American culture and local values from others. I also joined the International Neighbors and developed new friendships. As a result, I was able to remain focused on adapting to my new life in America while distinctively contributing to the classroom and community. In the past four years, I have been constantly reminded of my bravery and persistence from this freshman year experience as I continued to confront different challenges and overcome them.

What do you plan to do after you graduate this May?

After I graduate this May, I will start the process of moving to Baltimore, Maryland, where I will spend the next two years of my life. I will also show my mom around in America this summer since she has never been to America - I am pretty excited about her visit and experience here. I plan to continue to volunteer at the Johnson County Public Health office so that I can build on my public health skills and expertise in working with at-risk populations. In the fall, I will start pursuing a Master of Health Science degree with a focus on infectious disease epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

What advice do you have for future international students at the University of Iowa?

Don’t be afraid. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you need it. Respect new ideas and explore different things. Opportunity does not knock; it presents itself when you beat down the door. So keep your eyes on those potential opportunities to get involved on/off campus. Also remember that no feeling is final. You have to keep working to make things better, even when the odds are long and the opposition is fierce. You have the power to make positive changes in your own life and your community. So, always be authentic and passionate about what you believe in. Set your goals high. Work hard. Fight hard. And do not stop until you get there. Sometimes, as Nike suggests, all you need is to:  Just Do It.


Learn more about Zhiting:


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