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UC Berkeley Press Release

Winner of UC Berkeley's University Medal, top honor for a graduate, urges new students to make campus "feel like home"

– One might expect some keep-your-nose-to-the-grindstone advice from Margaret Ann-Chia Chow.

 Margaret Ann-Chia Chow
Margaret Ann-Chia Chow. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

After all, during her four years at the University of California, Berkeley, she has earned top grades while majoring in economics and molecular cell biology, edited a scholarly journal, and helped prepare disadvantaged students for the SAT.

Recently, she also won UC Berkeley's 2004 University Medal, the campus's top honor for a graduating senior with outstanding accomplishments, including a GPA of at least 3.96.

Yet, the 21-year-old Chow took time not just to study, but to enjoy life. She was up on water skis at Lake Tahoe, tried to surf in the ocean 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 said, newcomers to UC Berkeley can do well academically and still have time for fun, make new friends and explore the diversity of the campus and the San Francisco Bay Area.

The University Medal
Established in 1871, the University Medal honors the most distinguished graduating senior on the Berkeley campus. Competition for the medal is fierce. Three to five students are also named finalists, receiving a Certificate of Distinction and $1,000.

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"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 campus's Free Speech Movement Café. "Things will change. Your interests will change, and time will influence so many things."

That's the way it happened for Chow.

She started out at UC 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 admitted she had no particular goals for herself when she arrived on campus.

Chow moved into a residence hall and bonded quickly with other students away from home for the first time. She sought out clubs and activities to join and spent late hours debating current events and issues with new friends.

Chow enrolled in introductory classes in a range of subjects, sampling before deciding to blend science and humanities. She said she likes both because they teach different ways of thinking and approaching problems.

She wrote two articles for Berkeley Scientific, an undergraduate journal. One was about depression and biochemical explanations for it, and the other dealt with space travel-induced physiological changes for humans.

Chow stepped up to become the features editor of the journal and said she pushed the writers to explore the economic and political impacts of new developments in energy efficiency, not just the technical aspects. This year, Chow served as editor-in-chief of the journal and took part in initiating the Publications' Association at UC Berkeley, a newly-developing forum for undergraduate publications. The goal of the group is to discuss issues such as distribution and printing and to bargain collectively for lower prices in order to keep journals afloat amidst the many budget cuts affecting the university.

She also spent time in the molecular and cell biology laboratory of Professor Jack Kirsch, sometimes staying until sunrise, Chow said.

"When an experiment fails time after time, instead of being discouraged or frustrated, I analyze the problem at hand and design a modified experiment to circumvent it," she said.

In a letter recommending Chow for the University Medal, Kirsch, professor of molecular biochemistry and molecular biology and of chemistry, called her "an unusually remarkable student, who has shown outstanding judgment and prowess both in the classroom and in her research."

Chow also received the F.H. Carpenter Memorial Prize for a project continuing through the summer after her third year.

Ever eager for new experiences, Chow will attend a drama program in Verona, Italy, over the summer. "I wanted to do something I would never be able to do again," she said. She then will apply to law schools.

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 UC Berkeley Commencement Convocation at the Greek Theater on Thursday, May 13. In addition to the honor of being chosen University Medalist, she will receive a $2,500 scholarship.

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