Genetics honors student wins Fulbright-Hays scholarship to study in China

Zachary Marin and Tina Cai, students in the Chinese Language Flagship Program in Arizona State University’s School of International Letters and Cultures, have been awarded the Fulbright-Hays GPA Scholarship to study in China this summer to improve their Chinese language and cultural skills.

The scholarships were awarded through Associated Colleges in China (ACC), a partnership of six leading institutions of higher education in China dedicated to the highest quality of Chinese language education. The scholarship, funded by the U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hays GPA program, is awarded to highly qualified U.S. undergraduate or graduate students, and sponsors international travel, program tuition and lodging in China.

Madeline K. Spring, professor of Chinese and the director of the ASU Chinese Language Flagship Program and Confucius Institute, says learning to communicate well in another language should be an important part of a college education.

“Language is the core of communication and connection between humans,” she says. “The Chinese Language Flagship Program is a highly demanding honors-level program that attracts some of ASU’s brightest and most talented students.”

Genetics student explores possibilities

Zachary Marin, a junior who is also in the School of Life Sciences and Barrett, The Honors College, says a sense of adventure, an ASU professor and Google spurred him to join ASU and major in Chinese.

Here’s how it happened: Marin, while still a high school senior, was at a family gathering where he met Spring. They discussed his interest in doing something unique; that’s when Spring suggested he look into studying Chinese in college.

Marin went home and, in typical millennial fashion, Googled “Is studying Chinese worth it?”

The search result was an unequivocal “yes.”

“Right away, I decided to enroll in Chinese 101 and 102 at the Chinese Flagship Program the summer before my freshman year,” he says. “ASU is the only institution in the state featuring that level of advanced Chinese learning.”

Marin, a Scottsdale native, loved the language and decided to visit China for an advanced ACC language-learning program the summer following his sophomore year.

“Participants in the program take a language pledge which means we’re required to communicate only in Chinese,” he says. “It can be difficult at times, but the pledge helps us stick with the language and make progress.”

Marin made many friends in China during the trip and is now getting ready to go back in June – this time on a Fulbright-Hays GPA Scholarship.

“The ACC Field Studies Program has two main components: three weeks of intensive language study at Minzu University of China in Beijing, followed by three weeks in rural China where we will present in education conferences and teach elementary school children in day camps,” he says. “My presentation is titled ‘Arts Education and its Effect on Stress Alleviation, Individuality and Creativity.’ I’ll be teaching courses on science, arts, American music history and physical education games.”

Marin says the ultimate goals of the program are to advance participants’ language abilities, expand their knowledge about education issues through first-hand teaching experiences and conferences, and enhance mutual cultural understanding by comparing the Chinese and American education systems.

For his honors thesis, Marin will work closely with Stephen Bokenkamp, his adviser and professor of Chinese, to translate a paper in Classical Chinese to English.

“Classical Chinese is a traditional style of written Chinese that is different from any modern spoken version of the language,” he says. “Characters are not restricted to a single part of speech - they could be a noun, verb, object or combination of the three; it is open to interpretation.”

Spring says an example of Marin’s focus and perseverance is his volunteer work in the institute’s outreach programs for K-12 schools in the greater Phoenix area.

“Zachary has given many presentations to students of different ages as part of our effort to motivate them to study Mandarin,” Spring says. “His eager enthusiasm to offer guidance and inspiration to students who are less proficient in Chinese has been fantastic.”

But that’s not all. In addition to studying Chinese, Marin is majoring in genetics after losing close family members, including his mother, to cancer at a young age.

He joined Barrett after conducting thorough research on life sciences schools at research institutions across the U.S. and finding SOLS to be the perfect fit for him. He turned down offers from the University of California in Davis, University of Colorado in Boulder and University of Arizona.

During his sophomore year, Marin worked in a population genetics lab, examining populations of chimpanzees and bonobos at the genetic level to understand their evolutionary history and the 1 percent genetic variation that separates humans from chimpanzees.

Marin says he switched gears junior year to explore a different research interest.

“I worked on a Biodesign Institute research project that looks into the relationship between microbes in the human gut and the occurrence of autism,” he says. “Previous research shows that a high percentage of autistic children suffer from gastrointestinal problems, suggesting a link between the two.”

Marin is also an accomplished musician, taking after his father who passed away recently. He has participated in ASU’s Schola Cantorum and Solis Camerata choir music ensembles, and plays drums in his spare time.

He attributes his success to the love and support of his sister Rachael, the Wifler family, his family and friends, and the extended family he found in faculty members and classmates at ASU.

“I’ve found support every step of the way,” he says. “That has made me even more determined to accomplish my goals.”

Marin says he’s keeping his options open when it comes to choosing a career. For a tenacious 20-year-old who’s majoring in genetics and Chinese, and is a talented opera singer and drummer, that is a wise idea, considering the world is his oyster.

The School of International Letters and Cultures and School of Life Sciences are academic units in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Read about Tina Cai here.