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Julie Zhang named Dean's Medalist for the Natural Sciences

Submitted by Rose Choi on June 1, 2020 - 2:45pm
Julie Zhang, Dean's Medalist in the Natural Science
Julie Zhang, Dean's Medalist in the Natural Science
Article courtesy of Nancy Joseph | PERSPECTIVES

Each year, the College honors four graduating students — one from each of its four divisions — as Dean’s Medalists, based on academic performance and faculty recommendations. See why this year’s four recipients, who together represent eight Arts & Sciences majors, are being celebrated as “truly remarkable.”


Faculty teaching Julie Zhang for the first time are in for a surprise. Michael Perlman, professor emeritus of statistics, recalls undergraduate Zhang being at the top of his 60-student course for graduate students. “This was a truly remarkable performance,” he says. “I cannot recall a comparable performance by an undergraduate in my 50+ years of university teaching.” James Morrow, professor of mathematics, adds that Zhang’s “talents, accomplishments, and contributions are unequaled in my experience. She is a once-in-a-lifetime scholar, student, and person.”

Zhang came to the UW at age 14 through the Early Entrance Program. She participated in a Research Experiences for Undergraduates summer program at UCLA, working with Aerospace Corporation to develop a simulation to track space objects throughout time. Last summer she interned at the Institute of Disease Modeling (IDM), completing a research project to help combat malaria in remote villages in Africa. The project combined statistics, mathematics, and computer programming to help develop optimal household visit maps and predict the number of community health workers needed to deliver Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention (SMC) to all children under age five in any health districts based on satellite imagery. 

“Julie’s work is very significant to IDM,” says IDM research scientist André Lin Ouédraogo, her supervisor for the project. “It will be used on the field in countries with high malaria burden and where SMC is deployed to save the lives of children who otherwise would have contracted malaria.”

Fellow students have benefited from Zhang’s knowledge as well, through her work as a teaching assistant for the Department of Mathematics’ first-year honors accelerated calculus sequence. Monty McGovern, professor of mathematics, found her to be “a dream to work with” when he taught the sequence, particularly during the transition to online classes spring quarter due to COVID-19.  “Throughout she has gone above and beyond the call of duty,” he says. 

Zhang will attend graduate school in the Stanford University Department of Statistics this fall, with support from an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.