A Conversation With… Kaiyi Jiang

Kaiyi Jiang


College-bound senior at The King’s Academy, a boarding school near Knoxville, TN; Chinese exchange student and NHS president who finished in the top 10 in the TMTA (Tennessee Math Teacher Association) in geometry and calculus contests, top three in Tennessee for Sevier Aquatic’s Water Polo Team, second place in Roane State’s Piano Competition, scored in the 99th percentile on the PSAT (Commended Scholar), and earned the AP Scholar with Honor designation by obtaining high scores on several AP examinations

Advise: When did you first know you wanted to become a member of the National Honor Society? What did you hope to gain from the experience? 

Jiang: I first knew I wanted to participate in NHS when I saw the NHS induction ceremony at my school. I had a hope of learning about leadership in NHS because I thought it would be very hard to lead a group of elite students. The induction ceremony for King’s Academy involved the officers each discussing the core values of NHS: leadership, service, character, and scholarship. After each officer spoke, each inductee received a certificate and keychain to commemorate the event. While serving as president of my chapter this year, I have seen the difficulty of leading the brightest young minds at my school. They are an elite group, but someone always needs to take leadership. Understanding what that means has been a major challenge and a rewarding endeavor during my tenure in NHS.

Advise: You’re originally from China. Are there benefits to being a National Honor Society member that you feel are especially helpful for foreign-exchange or ELL students? 

Jiang: I think participating in NHS helped me understand more about American culture, because the service projects that we do helped me learn something about the United States that I can’t get elsewhere. Doing service projects allows me to observe and interact with places in America that a typical tourist or boarding school student would not see. One such service project was going to the local homeless shelter to hang out one Saturday. We sang, handed out treats, and listened to stories. I would not have been able to do all of this without being a member of NHS.

Advise: How did your involvement in the National Honor Society help shape your high school experience?

Jiang: My high school experience is enriched by participating in NHS. I have always had good grades, but participating in NHS means that you have to interact with all high-achieving students; you are no longer just the smartest kid in class. I began, slowly, to understand how I needed to be humble while at the same time motivated to increase my resolve to better myself and distinguish myself from my amazing peers. That really improved my leadership—realizing I still had a lot to learn.

Advise: The primary focus of your studies seems to be on STEM courses. Do you have any advice for other students who wish to pursue that area of study?  

Jiang: STEM courses are normally pretty challenging. I think the key to success in these courses is the great motivation behind them. You have to study very hard in order to get good grades in these classes, so motivation to do well is very important. The motivation is understanding that STEM-related careers are well-paying and offer opportunities to greatly impact society—from building new technology to conducting research to cure a specific disease to many other worthy causes. It’s about making people’s lives better, which drives me personally. Also, a key to success from a boarding school point of view is constantly asking questions and seeking help from the teacher when you don’t understand a topic.

Advise: What are your plans once you graduate from high school?

Jiang: I am from China, but I wish to stay in the United States to further my education beyond high school. I have applied to many colleges including Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. I really wish to go to Harvard to pursue my study in medicine. I have been privileged enough to have received multiple awards in science and math throughout my high school life, and received extraordinary comments from professors around the world on my cancer research. I really enjoy school and learning.

Advise: Speaking of your love of studying medicine, during the summer of 2016, you conducted research to combat breast cancer cells as part of the Dongrun-Yau Science and Mathematics competition. Could you share some more details about that? 

Jiang: My research involved finding a chemical that would treat breast cancer cells that have developed resistance to chemotherapy treatments. As is seen with the use of antibiotics to combat bacterial infections, some cancer cells have built up resistance to chemotherapy, leaving doctors with fewer effective treatment options. I found two chemicals that allowed the chemotherapeutic agent, ADM, to kill cancer cells that had become resistant to it. In my experiments, the two chemicals actually helped protect healthy cells from the harmful effects of chemotherapy. I did this research partly because my family members suffered from cancer, too. Cancer has caused so much damage to our society, and we still cannot find a cure. I hope I can contribute to this area in order for humanity to not suffer from this horrible disease. The outcome of this research is very positive; I learned how to communicate with other people and the endurance you need in order to succeed in this type of research. It takes time, effort, and patience to conduct worthy research. These things in society are still unsolved for a reason—because they are difficult to understand.

Advise: To your fellow students who are eligible, what would you tell them are the advantages of NHS membership?

Jiang: I think no matter if you are a student seeking to improve your leadership skills or a student trying to share or learn new ideas, NHS would be the perfect place. It provides lots of opportunities for you to share ideas and take on responsibilities outside the classroom. Your sponsors work very hard to provide enrichment activities, from getting guest speakers representing local businesses and colleges to doing service projects around the community. NHS provides a great atmosphere to challenge oneself academically and socially to be a more rounded person.

Advise: How did your involvement in the National Honor Society make you a better leader? 

Jiang: Being able to communicate with everyone and coordinate with them when doing a project together really helped me improve my leadership skills. You have to not only listen and understand different viewpoints, but also be decisive. For example, we have often divided our NHS chapter into different groups in order for them to function properly on a project. We have coordinated a students-teaching-teachers workshop where different groups of NHS students teach teachers about the technology used by teenagers today, such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Slader. All these situations require wise and difficult decisions, which NHS helped prepare me for while serving as president of my school’s chapter.

Advise: Did the service work you did with NHS ignite an interest in helping others? How so? 

Jiang: I think the service work we did actually helped a lot. I have rarely seen how those in poverty in the United States live. Helping them made me aware of people who really need assistance. Some people lack physical resources, while others lack spirituality or social skills. I don’t think we can do much on physical resources, such as money, since we are high school students, but I do believe that we can help them spiritually or socially by being kind and listening to them and not judging them. I hope when I have the resources and time, after my academic career has concluded, I can help these people suffering from poverty and disease through medical research and compassionate acts.

Advise: Please share your fondest memories from your time in NHS. 

Jiang: My fondest memory is when our NHS chapter went to KARM, an agency for homeless people in Knoxville, for a service project. With some initial understanding about these people, we divided into several groups, some bringing food to them, some preparing music to worship with them, and others bringing all kinds of games to play with them. This project just made me realize how much we can do even without monetary resources. I think of this as my fondest memory not only because I learned how much I can do, but also because I was deeply touched by the behavior of my classmates. I saw some students sitting down patiently to communicate with these people and others deliberately losing a game, without being too obvious, just to make the homeless people happy. One of my classmates even gave his new hat to a person who just lost their legs in a car accident. The joy on all the faces is one of the best scenes I have ever seen.