Dennis Zhang

Undergraduate, Columbia University
  • Columbia University
  • People
  • United States of America

I am a/an:

Undergraduate Scholar

Area of Expertise

Biomedical Sciences Humanities Leadership Medicine Science Social Sciences

Research Topic

Anthropology Ethics Society & Culture Sociology

Laidlaw Cohort Year



Columbia University

I am from:

United States of America

I speak:


My hobbies/interests are:

Gym Podcasts Reading Running/jogging Travelling Volunteering

I am open to participating in mentoring/buddy programmes


Influencer Of


Rooms participated in:

Columbia University

Recent Comments

Jun 26, 2022
Replying to Ava Sanjabi

Week Two: 

The engagement of different communities in my research is applicable both to the topics as well as to the outreach component. Within planetary research, it is necessary for people from different nations and backgrounds to come together to build technology and come to conclusions that push the field forward. In terms of outreach, this week I had my first virtual lesson with a primary school in Miami. Many of the students came from low income backgrounds, and/or speak english as a second language. Having a diverse group of students for my first community interactions was helpful in developing my outreach methodology for future classes. I have to adapt to different kinds of questions and break down the science into very simple concepts. 

I can find myself coming through my research very literally, since my name is Ava and focus on life in lava tubes. But more importantly, I see myself come through in my outreach and my day to day endeavors. The focus of my outreach is that everyone is capable of doing similar studies, with the right tools; to emphasize this, I think it is important for me to be physically and conceptually present in my project.

Hi Ava! It's really cool to hear about your experience teaching underserved primary school students! Having taught younger students myself, I'm curious what strategies you are using to keep students engaged, especially since you are teaching remotely. Perhaps music? Videos? Fun images? Teaching such a young lay audience is definitely a different ball-game than communicating with the more senior scientists you're probably used to discussing with. I can only imagine how it forces you to be creative, expect the unexpected, and adapt as you design future lessons!

Jun 26, 2022

Week 4:

Volunteering at the Terence Cardinal Cooke (TCC) Healthcare Center has been a both humbling and exciting experience. As a brief reminder, I am working in the TCC’s Recreation Department and, more specifically, in its Huntington's disease unit.

Huntington's disease causes a fatal and progressive loss of nerve cells that eventually leaves residents non-communicative. As a result, while some of the residents are able to comprehend, formulate, and verbalize coherent thoughts, many are left largely unresponsive. This has made checking in on and engaging with residents particularly challenging, and it's forced me to be more creative and resourceful.

One powerful resource that I came across were "communication books" that were made by speech therapists shortly after each resident arrived at the TCC (i.e. when they were generally very communicative). These books detail their lives, interests, passions, family, etc. Some residents were musicians, some were pediatricians, and some were even rocket scientists! When I'm lucky, mentioning some of the things they hold near and dear to their hearts (or playing a tune they are fond of) can elicit a friendly response. Sometimes that's a just thumbs up. Other times it’s a playful glance. It's not a lot, but it's enough to know I'm reaching them.

I recently learned that many newly admitted residents lack these "communication books.” This is due to a dearth of speech therapists visiting the TCC during the pandemic. It’s really a shame. Not only have the books been helpful to me as a volunteer, I’m sure they are extraordinarily meaningful to both the resident and their family alike. As a result, I’ve taken it upon myself to see what I can do to help make "communication books" for these residents! Stayed tuned.

Jun 18, 2022
Replying to Faith Andrews-O'Neal

Week three: What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!

Working at an NGO means that every single day is a little different, and all very exciting! My usual routine on a work day involves the food distributions, where we meet at Square Albert-Schweitzer (near the center of Paris) in the morning and go on different routes bringing people without homes food and coffee/tea. There are also weekly language exchanges, in which volunteers and refugees come together to improve English/French language skills, ending with a potluck dinner. However, what makes the work extra exciting is when added opportunities for engagement appear, such as getting to partner with REVERB, an organization dedicated to making tours more sustainable, and getting to see Lorde in concert after volunteering and helping conduct outreach for Serve the City as well as raise awareness about climate change. I also had the opportunity a couple weeks ago to lead a volunteer workshop on global formations of racial identity, which gave me the chance to take some of what I've learned in my CSER classes and share with volunteers from all over the world both in person and virtually (two people zoomed in from Egypt and India!).

While for some reason I can't figure out how to link images, you can see more of the work Serve the City is doing on their instagram

Hi Faith, it's incredible to see how diverse your experiences working for an NGO has been this summer! It's really cool to see how you're integrating various facets of your skillset into your day-to-day work. From leveraging language aptitude at the weekly language exchanges to exercising teaching skills at your volunteer workshop, I feel inspired by how you've managed to really personalize and own your experience!

Jun 18, 2022

Week Three:

A typical day volunteering in the Huntington's disease unit at the Terence Cardinal Cooke (TCC) Healthcare Center starts in the Recreation Department office. After arriving in the morning, I get debriefed on my hour-to-hour responsibilities. In general, I'll usually start off my day by heading over to where our Huntington's residents live and checking in! I'll then walk over to a different part of the complex to help facilitate activities ranging from word puzzles to horticulture. Throughout the day, I'll also shuttle residents to the outdoor patio area of the TCC. This is often my favorite part of the day because the residents instantly get more lively when they're outside, making the patio a fantastic space to chat with and get to know the residents! I'll usually wrap up each day by checking in one more time with the Huntington's residents and then embarking on a scenic walk back to my summer residence through Central Park, which is conveniently situated right next to the TCC.

I'm attaching a link to the TCC's Huntington's disease unit website here (which includes pictures of Huntington's patients and what the unit looks like)!

Jun 09, 2022
Replying to Anna Nuttle

Week Three:
What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!

When I first started my project, I definitely focused most of my time on updating myself on current research in general, but I have now expanded my project to meeting with people with scholarly or personal background in the Marshall Islands. In the latter part of the summer, I will be helping my mentor go through a collection of items from the Marshall Islands to help create a community exhibit. 

Hi Anna! I'm really intrigued by the community exhibit you mentioned and (based on your previous post) how exactly you plan to weave together different perspectives on nuclear colonialism in the Marshall Islands. I'm also curious about the role that different forms of media (images, videos, documents, text, music) will eventually play in weaving together the different narratives you've mentioned. Excited to see the final product!

Jun 09, 2022

Week #2:

One of my projects this summer is to connect with the parents of youth with sickle cell disease (on behalf of a nonprofit called NextStep) and solicit feedback on what type of programming we could offer that would best serve them. While I have yet to talk to these parents this summer, I have done so previously over the past two academic years. As the student leader of a NextStep-associated mentorship organization for youth with sickle cell called STRIVE, we frequently speak with parents to generally check in, answer questions, and ensure that we’re meeting their needs and expectations. Typically, we connect over phone (especially since the parents are often working and would likely be difficult to reach in-person). The parents have always been enthusiastic about the work we do at STRIVE, and I'm excited to connect soon!

Jun 03, 2022
Replying to Adina Cazacu-De Luca

Week 3: What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!

7:30 am: I wake up and head to the panadería below my apartment to get a spinach empanada. I put on a pot of coffee, eat breakfast, and get ready. 

8 am: I walk to the Andalusian School of Public Health (about 15 minutes). Siesta is respected here, so the work day goes from around 8 am- 3 pm, when the heat makes it hard to do anything other than take a nap. I'll start on data analysis, geocoding, or translation tasks. I work in a large room with ~5 other scientists, and we'll go back and forth on ideas (about coding, experimental design, etc). 

12-2 pm: School of Patients workshop! (See previous week for description).

2 pm: more public health research tasks :)

3 pm: I walk back to my apartment, stopping at a restaurant in Plaza Larga for a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice. It's siesta time. 

5 pm: Another school of patients workshop! The evening workshops are usually led by a medical professional or patient and are more lecture/presentation style. Past workshops have included: Nutritional recommendations for patients chronic renal disease, information on multiple sclerosis, nutrition and Alzheimers, and a public debate between political candidates of various parties on their public health agendas. 

8 pm: I eat dinner with friends I've made around Granada, and afterwards we might go to a flamenco concert or to an overlook with views of the Alhambra where guitarists play late into the night. 

(I am not sure how to add pictures but as soon as I figure it out I will edit this post!)

Hi Adina! This schedule sounds so fun! It's amazing to see how your day seems to be colored with diverse experiences that range from conducting research (whether that's technical or high-level tasks), to grabbing delicious-sounding food, listening to interesting workshops (the political debates are a cool addition to the line up), and even a variety of late-night activities. I'll look forward to seeing some pictures!

P.S. Reading this post makes me think that America should also respect the siesta. Post-lunch / afternoon slump is no joke!

Jun 03, 2022

Week #1:

For the first half of my undergraduate career, my pursuits have largely been unified by the central thread of a fascination with genetics. This summer, I’m making the transition from exploring genetics as a researcher- to serving those who are vulnerable in the genetics field.

Last summer, I conducted two types of research. As a part of the Laidlaw program, I conducted qualitative bioethics research on precision medicine research, a field that promises to combine genetic, environment, and lifestyle data in personalizing healthcare. Outside of Laidlaw, I conducted basic biology research on CRISPR genome engineering technologies in the Sternberg Lab.

This summer, my goal is to serve the rare genetic disease community through two simultaneous projects- one in-person and one virtual. First, I will be developing virtual support groups for the parents of youth with sickle cell disease (a rare genetic blood condition) through the Cambridge-based non-profit called NextStep. I was inspired to create these support groups through my past experience leading a NextStep program called STRIVE, which mentors youth with sickle cell. In STRIVE, we occasionally host programs called “sickle cell panels” where our program mentees learn from and pose questions to older folks also living with sickle cell. Youth have always remarked how eye-opening these panels have been, so the basic idea was: why not allow the parents of these youth also connect, share resources, and offer support to one another?

In tandem, I will be in-person volunteering at the Terence Cardinal Cooke (TCC) Healthcare Center in NYC. The TCC offers both long-term and short-term care in the form of a traditional nursing home, sub-acute rehabilitation program, specialty hospital for youth, and, most famously, a dedicated care unit for those with Huntington’s disease (a rare genetic neurodegenerative brain disorder). The latter is where I will be spending the bulk of my time, where I hope to get a better sense of what it is like working in hospice care and, more specifically, caring for those with a rare neurodegenerative disease.

As different as my aforementioned research might appear from my more service-oriented work this summer, one transferable skill (or tool) that I’ll be taking with me is the ability to navigate an inter-disciplinary, highly collaborative setting. Last summer, whether my colleagues specialized in anthropology, data science, or molecular biophysics, drawing on diverse talents, while clearly communicating what our high-level goals were, allowed me to move research projects forward in a quicker, more organized fashion. This summer, I will similarly find myself in multi-disciplinary, collaborative settings filled with recreational therapists, physicians, and non-profit program directors. It will be really important to continue leveraging diverse expertise to further my project goals!