Skip to main content

Passion for music, global health drives ASU graduate

woman sitting at piano
December 11, 2014

As a freshman, Cecilia Chou knew that she wanted to study piano performance. She’d been playing since the age of three, and her mother and sister before her had both studied piano. She also knew that she wanted to be more involved with the sciences, but she wasn’t sure how.

“I didn’t really have an idea of what was possible,” Chou says now.I went into pre med. That was my compromise.”

Eventually, she learned about the global health program in Arizona State University's School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

“At the time, I was looking for a safety in case med school didn’t work out,” she says. “I looked at the major map [and] I realized a lot of my pre med courses fit.”

Global health turned out to be more of a passion than a “safety.”

“I feel like it spoke to a lot of the different interests I have,” Chou says. “Global health is very much an interdisciplinary field; it incorporates the study of culture, the study of languages, the study of medicine and even the study of history. You can approach it from many different ways.”

On Dec. 16, Chou will graduate from ASU with a bachelor of arts in global health, a bachelor of arts in music performance (piano) and a minor in history.

She’s been selected as the Fall 2014 Dean’s Medalist for the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and will be given special recognition at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences convocation ceremony. The Dean’s Medal recognizes the academic and other achievements of the most outstanding graduating senior from each of the college’s schools and departments.

Last year, Chou did her honors thesis on the field of acoustic ecology, which she describes as “the intersection between art, science, acoustics, history and anthropology.”

“In my thesis, I sought to answer an overarching question that reflected my personal path at ASU – despite conventional boundaries between music and science, how have the two fields intersected throughout history, and specifically the 20th century?”

Working with Sabine Feisst, professor in the ASU School of Music, Chou looked at David Dunn and Andrea Polli, two sound artists who explore music that draws attention to environmental problems and sustainability issues. Feisst cites Chou’s thesis project as an excellent example of “how the arts and sciences can be negotiated in a meaningful way.”

Chou believes that “it’s a good time to be interested in a lot of fields.”

“I’ve come to realize that I enjoy incorporating all these things I’m interested in,” she says. “I’m really passionate about the importance of approaching these real-world issues from other perspectives.”

Her ideal scenario for the future involves more interdisciplinary research that both relates to medicine and allows her to mine her passion for history and her background in music.

She’s interested in studying the pathway that music takes in the brain, for example. And she’s interested in focusing on the integration of traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine.

The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants who both came to the United States for graduate school, Chou grew up in a household that managed to integrate Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine “pretty well,” she says. And she did a global health study in New Zealand this past summer that showed her “this parallel existence of Maori practitioners and Western practitioners, and people going to both.”

“I think studying other countries’ traditional medicine has a lot to offer to our health care system,” Chou says.

“When you grow up in America now, being a doctor is one of the most respectable jobs, so you automatically think you want to be a doctor. But the truth is that there’s so much more to health and medicine. The great thing about global health is realizing that the health of a population as a whole depends on other factors, like the economy and understanding that country’s culture, their traditions.”

One of Chou’s favorite experiences at ASU has been studying the history of medicine with Jane Maienschein, director of the ASU Center for Biology and Society.

“We look at how medicine has changed over the past centuries, going back to the Greeks. It’s crazy to learn about, but at the same time, it makes you more cautious about being certain about things now.”

Chou was struck by the idea that the Western notion of helping third-world countries means either volunteering there for a couple of weeks or donating money, neither of which is effective in the long term.

“It was really eye opening to learn that there are ways to make lasting effects outside of those ways,” Chou says.

“Depending on how med school works out, I’m considering graduate programs, and I’m interested in the one Jane Maienschein leads,” Chou says. “I really loved her class. The best classes are the ones that challenge your personal outlook on things that are important to you.”