Name: Stephanie Zhong
Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.
Major: Dual degree in nursing and economics with a concentration in health care management
Stephanie Zhong: When I was in high school, I volunteered at a hospital, and I really enjoyed the experience there. I really enjoyed talking with the patients, and getting to know their story, and being there for them. Not just physically, but also mentally, and being there through a very vulnerable time for them. And so I kind of fell in love. I saw what the nurses were doing, and I wanted to have something like that. But then I also realized, as a nurse, there's only so much time you have and only so many individual lives that you can really change or touch or impact. So then I was thinking that I wanted to take on a more business route, too, because then I feel like I can make larger changes overall to the health care system, health care administration, and hospital administration. So I wanted the aspects of both [nursing and business].
So I came into Penn and into this program with that mindset. And honestly, throughout my years of studying, finding that sort of niche was harder than I thought. When I talked to upperclassmen, they either became nurses, or they went into consulting or something really business–related. And I was like, "Is there not really a midpoint here?" So that was a worry of mine for a little bit.
But I'm really excited because last semester, I accepted a job offer at DaVita. They're a health care company, and I worked for them last summer in their business analyst program. They gave me a return offer to work in their finance department. And I just didn't know if that's what I wanted to do. [I told DaVita], "Hey, I'm actually going to graduate with a nursing degree, so is there any way that I can practice in one of your clinics?" They have thousands of clinics throughout the country. And so basically, now I'm actually going to be a nurse in one of their facilities for a year. And then we decided on this fast track, where I'm going to then become a facility administrator of an entire clinic. It's super amazing because I feel like I get the nursing experience, but then also, I'm going to maybe be in charge of a clinic in a year's time. I realized that this is the sort of job that this [dual–degree] program got me. I'm able to work as a nurse. And also bringing in the business background, I'm able to fast–track and have this sort of opportunity more quickly.
Street: You're also a model and an actress. What drew you to these jobs?
SZ: When I was in high school, I suffered a lot from mental issues like depression, anxiety, that sort of thing, and it was pretty bad. What drew me to acting was the fact that I felt like I could escape being myself because my life felt so miserable. So it's kind of depressing, but that's what drew me to acting in the first place. I just wanted to be somebody else. I wanted to embody another character, another life, and another story, and just let go of the current life I was having. That was in high school. I actually went to sign with an agency in St. Louis. And so the modeling kind of came with it. It wasn't like I sought out to do modeling. It just went hand in hand. I'm definitely more like in love with the acting part of it.
Street: You're starring in the independent film Jade this year. What was it like to work on the film?
SZ: Jade is one of the larger projects that I've been a part of in terms of the fact that I am the main character, which is pretty crazy. I actually really love the message that the story tells. It's about this girl whose name is Jade, or in Chinese, 玉. She's from China originally. Her parents are being chased down by bad people in China. She gets poisoned, and her parents get killed. Before it all happens, she gets sent to America to live with her godfather, and her godfather is Black. Now, we know there's a lot of racial tension between Asians and Black people. This is something that's been a problem, and it's something that I've realized in my own Asian communities. In the film, it really touches on this. [Jade] basically does not want to live with her godfather because she's heard all these stories [about Black people] from her grandmother. And she's super mean and horrible to her godfather. And then through time, she basically builds this relationship and bond after she realizes that it's not like that at all. She's been told lies. So it's like that impact combined with a superhero film at the same time, which is really fun, because it's not just about the combat. There's also a very real issue that's being addressed in the film. I really enjoyed it. I loved working with everyone. I got to do really cool fight scenes. You know, you get together with a bunch of people, and they're all really invested and really love what they're doing. And you come together to make this piece to show to the world.
Street: Your friends describe you as the busiest person they know. How do you balance it all and make sure you're taking care of yourself?
SZ: I feel like I'm not doing my extracurriculars to have a leadership position, to look good, or to put it on my resume. Everything that I'm involved in is strictly because I enjoy it, and I want to be a part of that community. And so when I do my extracurriculars, it doesn't seem like work to me at all. It all seems like fun. So that's how I balance it. I feel like I'm already getting a lot [out] of academics, so I don't need to do more academics in my club work. I just do my classes, and then all the time that I'm spending doing extracurriculars, it's actually fun for me. So it's kind of like a break. A lot of my friends come from the different extracurriculars that I'm in, so it's time that I'm hanging out with them as well. I don't really feel that I'm that busy.
Street: What has been your most memorable experience at Penn?
SZ: [It was] with SDC, which is the Social Deduction Club. This is a club that my friends and I started our [first] year. We play this game called Humans vs. Zombies. We take over the Engineering Quad with a bunch of Nerf guns, and we basically run around. Some people are assigned zombies at the beginning. You try and survive, and you have these Nerf guns that you're running around shooting zombies with. I remember one time, just in the middle of the chaos and all, just thinking like, "Wow, I did not think I was going to be having this much fun at Penn." I think it was those moments where you take a step back, and you look at the larger scheme of things. And you're like, "Look at all these wonderful people. Look at this wonderful time."
I think my moments with SDC have been just so, so nice. We stay up very late together. We do a lot of games together. We explore the city together. But that's a specific moment from SDC that I remember just thinking, "Wow, this is really fun."
Street: If you could impart one lesson to the Penn student body, what would it be?
SZ: I think this is very cliché, but I think it's very true. Don't feel like you need to compare yourself to everyone else. I know this touches on Penn Face and everything like that, but it's so true. Everyone's putting on the best version of themselves. And when you see that, I think it can get very discouraging at times. Because you stand there, and you're like, "I feel so insignificant when I'm surrounded by all these smart people." But just remember that you're here for a reason. You're amazing. Every person is amazing.
Street: Last song you listened to?
SZ: “Ocean Eyes" by Billie Eilish.
Street: If you were a building on campus, which one would you be and why?
SZ: I would be Houston Hall. I feel like it's a place that everyone knows. That's where we gathered for SDC. I feel like it allows for people to hang out together.
Street: Who's your favorite actor or performer?
SZ: I love Selena Gomez. I think she's amazing. I love her earlier stuff that she acted in like Wizards of Waverly Place. Legit my favorite show.
Street: What's your favorite movie?
SZ: I really like Inception. I think it's so mind–boggling. No matter how many times you watch it, you're still confused.
Street: Who do you look up to?
SZ: I look up to my fiancé. I think he has so many amazing traits. He's taught me so much about myself and allowed me to grow in so many ways. I feel like he is such a good person, so I really look up to him.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn …
SZ: Those who go into consulting and IB [investment banking], and those who don't. Or those who sell out and those who don't.
Street: And you are?
SZ: I am not selling out!