Passion for science, social justice

Wenji Guo

“Approach every day as a new opportunity,” says Riddle Prize winner Wenji Guo. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

When Wenji Guo enrolled in her first epidemiology course at UIC, “it just clicked,” she says.

“Epidemiology allows me to channel my scientific mind and passion for social justice into tackling important biomedical issues within the societal context,” said Guo, who graduates Sunday with a degree in biological sciences.

Guo is this year’s winner of the Donald and Leah Riddle Prize for Outstanding Graduating Senior. The prize, named for a former chancellor and his wife, is among UIC’s top undergraduate honors.

She wants to focus her research on cancer epidemiology and women’s health, especially breast cancer, combining her passion for medicine and public health as a physician-epidemiologist.

“Breast cancer incidence rates are far from uniformly distributed,” said Guo, an Honors College student who received a national Goldwater Scholarship in 2012.

“This suggests that environmental and lifestyle factors play a highly significant role in breast cancer risk. I’m interested in studying the effects of diet and of exogenous hormones, such as variation of oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy, on cancer risk.

“I hope that my work will elucidate new directions for not only medical research, but also public policy.”

Guo has more schooling in her future before she can tackle her career goals. She plans to complete a Ph.D. in cancer epidemiology at Oxford University, then return to the U.S. for medical school. She was awarded an Oxford Clarendon Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship for her post-graduate studies.

Although research was central to her time at UIC, she recalls other highlights, including the Intergroup Dialogue Initiative, which encourages students from diverse backgrounds to talk about social identity, inequality and justice.

“Intergroup Dialogue started transforming me into a more critical thinker and empowered me to become significantly more involved in the community,” she said.

Guo manages to fit school, research and student organizations into her schedule, with time for fun. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the city’s neighborhoods, running, playing violin and watching international films.

“It’s like seeing through a window to another culture,” she said.

With her successful undergraduate career now behind her, Guo has some advice for current and incoming students.

“Take advantage of the freedom that college brings and be productive in exploring your interests,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there or to pursue something different than your friends.

“Approach every single day as a new opportunity by going beyond what’s required of you.”

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