Jessica K. Li of Martinsville, Virginia, a senior who will graduate in May with dual degrees in Human, Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Biological Sciences in the College of Science, has been selected Virginia Tech Undergraduate Student of the Year. She is also minoring in chemistry and has maintained a 4.0 GPA while paying for her education through work and scholarships.

The Virginia Tech Undergraduate Student of the Year awards recognize a graduating student who has achieved overall excellence during their undergraduate careers at the university. The recognition is the most prestigious non-academic undergraduate award given at Virginia Tech and is awarded to a student who has exceptional and balanced achievement in academics, leadership, and service. The recipient exemplifies the qualities and values important to a Virginia Tech education, captured in the university motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

Li, a self-described “Hispanic Asian American with a slight country twang,” said her research and service work in the field of medicine made her realize the true meaning of Ut Prosim.

Li said, “As a Spanish translator on a medical mission trip in Honduras, I discovered the importance of seeing the world through the eyes of others. Applying myself in community-based research, I work toward positive changes in my local community. As a hospice volunteer, my patients model the importance of living every moment with an open mind and learning from the people around us. Working as an academic tutor, students teach me to be sensitive to the needs of others. In classes, through brainstorming and teamwork, my peers instill the power of collaboration and strength in numbers.”

As a geriatric intern, Li was recipient of the Virginia Tech University Honors Patricia C. Perna Scholarship. She designed a study to compare geriatric care in West Kowloon, Hong Kong, and Richmond, Virginia, and examine the cultural dynamics that influences it.

As a research assistant and technician, Li was part of a team that explored the motivators and barriers to healthy lifestyles. Their work assessed and quantified the availability of healthy food choices in health-disadvantaged regions of Virginia and North Carolina. Another research project Li took part in was funded by the National Institutes of Health to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in Southwest Virginia.

Li was nominated for the Undergraduate Student of the Year award by her supervisor, mentor, and undergraduate thesis advisor, Jamie Zoellner, associate professor of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise. Zoellner said, “Jessica’s resume exemplifies a very high standard of achievement and service. She is truly the epitome of our Ut Prosim motto.”

Li has held leadership positions in the American Medical Student Association and is current president of Phi Sigma Biological Sciences Honor Society. A University Honors and Dean’s List student, Li is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society and the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.

Li’s experiences at Virginia Tech have inspired her to dedicate her life to the service of others .Recently, Li was accepted into medical school, where she will continue to pursue her passion for medicine, especially as it relates to diversity and geriatrics. 

The Undergraduate Student of the Year award recipient is selected by a committee of students, faculty, and administrators from across the academic colleges and the Division of Student Affairs. The division sponsors and administers the annual award, now in its 63rd year.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Written by Sandy Broughton.

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