A&S Class of ’24: Sophia Cheng Found Purpose and Inspiration at UVA

Sophia Cheng

The Class of ‘24’s Sophia Cheng found her home at UVA in the College’s highly competitive undergraduate Program in Fundamental Neuroscience.  She graduates this spring with Distinguished Major honors in neuroscience and with a minor in East Asian studies.

The combination of history and STEM courses has created a nice balance in her undergraduate experience, Cheng said.

Originally, Cheng applied to UVA as a business major, but looking back, she’s not sure why.  Looking over the courses that were available to her, she quickly changed direction and moved into the sciences.  And after taking time off to travel before jumping into her graduate studies, she plans to a career in medicine with a secondary focus on cancer research.

“Cancer is the ultimate biological research question,” Cheng said.  “It’s so interesting, and there are so many things in that field of study that I want to know more about, and so many ways to help people.”

Cheng’s minor in East Asian studies was something she started on a whim.  She took a history course on modern China, and though she’s Chinese by heritage, she didn’t know much about the history of the country and the country’s people.  Taking the class gave her a deeper understanding of her family’s history and of some of the events that her parents and grandparents had experienced before coming to the United States.  After taking several more classes, she realized she might as well keep going.

Cheng considers herself to be driven as a student, but in addition to having the opportunity to pursue a degree that has meaning for her, she has also appreciated being inspired by other UVA students who have kept her motivated and have introduced her to new ideas and new perspectives on the world.

“Being internally motivated is important, but being surrounded by people who are motivated too, is a really nice thing,” Cheng said.  “UVA is a great place to be academically challenged.

Outside of the classroom, Cheng has had the opportunity to participate in the University’s Democratic Futures Project, which brings together academics, advocates and policy makers working to reinvigorate a democracy and citizenship premised on inclusion and equity, and her role has been to help students find opportunities to become involved in advocacy.

“It’s really easy to not pay attention to world events, and I like that this keeps me aware of what’s going on in the world,” Cheng said.  “These are really important things that people should know about.”

She also volunteered with UVA’s Volunteers with International Students, Staff, & Scholars program, or VISAS, which gave her a chance to help other students whose first language isn’t English, an experience has also introduced her to a wide variety of people at the University that she might not have met.

She has also worked as a teaching assistant and as a volunteer EMT in the Lake Monticello community in Palmyra. 

“That really solidified my interest in being a physician.  Providing care is what I really want to do,” Cheng said.

What Cheng values most about her time in the College is that, rather than just preparing her for a career, her undergraduate experience has introduced her to so much more than she expected from an undergraduate education.

“The College provides you with such a strong foundation, there are so many opportunities to pursue, and all you have to do is reach out and say you’re interested.  I’ve really loved that about UVA.”


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