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Tao Hong

College: Queensborough Community College
Awards: Goldwater Scholarship, 2017; Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship, 2017; 2017 Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Gold Scholar, 2017; 2017 Phi Theta Kappa All New York Team Award, 2017; National Science Foundation-2017Research Experience for Undergraduates program at Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, 2016; 2016 Gold medal at American Chemical Society-Long Island Section 16th Chemistry Challenge, 2016; 2015-16 New York State Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (NYSMATYC) Award for Excellence in Mathematics, 2016; 2017 Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) Scholarship, 2017

From Hardly a ‘Hello' to Studying for a Ph.D. in Science

When he came to America from China in 2014, Tao Hong says the only sentence he could say was, "Hello, how do you do?" But after one semester with the CUNY Language Immersion Program (CLIP), "I improved a lot, including my writing, reading and speaking."

Now graduating from Queensborough Community College, he has captured two prestigious 2017 awards: a federal Barry Goldwater Scholarship for undergraduate students heading toward Ph.D.s in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering, and a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship.

As a rising junior, Hong will receive the Goldwater - up to $7,500 for tuition, fees, books, room and board - for two years. Graduating with an A.S. in engineering technology and a 3.96 GPA, he awaits admission decisions from several top schools.

The Jack Kent Cooke award - given to just 55 of nearly 3,000 applicants - pays college costs that other financial aid doesn't cover, up to $40,000 per year. Recipients can apply for graduate scholarships.

Hong is seeking a doctorate in material science. "I like it because it's not a single thing," he says. "It mixes math, physics and chemistry."

His Queensborough education prepared him well, he says. Professor Moni Chauhan "ignited my interest in science." He explains that they developed an efficient "one-pot" process of synthesizing a PMHS- (polymethylhydrosiloxane)-coated polyrhodanine nanotube - or, in plain English, a neat way of delivering an antibacterial agent in an environmentally friendly way.

Hong also credits his success to Queensborough mathematician Howard Sporn and chemist Paris Svoronos, "the coach of the team."

In the summer of 2016, he won a 10-week National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates at Vanderbilt University. There, mechanical engineering professor Deyu Li wrote in a recommendation, "Tao really surprised me with his enthusiasm, productivity and creativity, which led to research progress easily comparable to senior graduate students."

Li asked Hong to help a doctoral student develop a microfluidic chip to sort and trap C. elegans, a tiny worm used in research. Hong recognized that the worm prefers to swim in curved channels, rather than straight ones. His superior worm-sorting chip won Hong first place in Vanderbilt's research-poster competition that summer - and co-first authorship of a paper with the graduate student.

This summer he will intern at a global specialty chemicals firm, Albemarle Corp. in Baton Rouge, La., thanks to a $10,000 American Chemical Society internship in chemistry and chemical engineering; just 32 were awarded to undergraduates.

When Hong placed first in a 25-college competition sponsored by the New York State Mathematics Association of Two-Year Colleges this year, he said, "To me, science and math are the keys to unlock the natural phenomena that we see, and also phenomena beyond our perception."