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The Rhodes to Success

Scholar Finds Joy in Helping Other Minority Students Succeed

By Alex Stoller

Fang Cao

Growing up in a poor neighborhood of London, Fang Cao ’15 and his parents slept on cardboard in their apartment because they couldn’t afford mattresses. He was a latchkey kid at age 7, when his parents worked side jobs while attending graduate school.

Cao will be returning to London this fall, this time as a graduate student at the University of Oxford studying medical anthropology on a Rhodes Scholarship.

“I know what it’s like to worry about money, so having to not have to worry about money is something that feels pretty amazing,” he says.

An American citizen since age 12, Cao received a full scholarship to Maryland as a Banneker/Key scholar. He has a 4.0 GPA as a neurobiology and physiology major, has done research at the National Institutes of Health and Children’s National Medical Center and studied abroad at a health clinic in Jamaica.

“I remember the first email he sent me about a particular issue in biochemical thermodynamics,” says biology Professor Todd Cooke, who became a mentor. “And my first thought was, ‘Oh, this is going to be more challenging than I thought.’ He’s extraordinarily bright.”

Amid all that, Cao started two tutoring programs at nearby Northwestern High School to help disadvantaged minority students improve in science and prepare for college. Two dozen UMD students are now volunteering, playing games like “Biology Jeopardy” with the teens.

“I thought I could contribute to improving educational opportunities for those who are less fortunate,” he says. “I guess I saw a bit of that from my own past experiences.”

Cooke says Cao’s commitment is unsurprising. “Fang is very conscious that he has been given incredible gifts, and he sees a deep responsibility to share his gifts and his challenges and his opportunities with people.”

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