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She’s Pitt’s first-ever recipient of a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans
When Anna Li’s mother, father and older brother left China in 1996 for Chapel Hill, North Carolina, they had only $20 cash.
“Not only were they in a foreign country where they didn’t know what was going on — they didn’t speak English and they had no money,” Li said. “I think they worked really hard to provide me with opportunities and allowed me to live a better life, as many immigrant stories go.”
Today, Li is pursuing an MD/PhD with a focus on treating antibiotic-resistant infections in cystic fibrosis patients at Pitt. She’s also the University’s first-ever recipient of The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, an annual award that provides $90,000 over two years to immigrants and first-generation students pursuing graduate education. She’s among 30 other recipients in the 2023 class of fellows, who were selected out of nearly 2,000 applicants.
Li said she’s thankful for the award and wants to share her experiences to encourage others to seek out similar opportunities even if they’re afraid it won’t work out in their favor. She didn’t receive this fellowship the first time she applied to it last year, she said, but she’s not afraid to laugh at herself and embrace and learn from failure.
“I feel like I really just had doors open for me, and then I just walked through,” Li said. “There's so many people that are exactly like me that just don't have that opportunity. I don't see it as anything extraordinary about me. I think I have an incredible support network and I've been so lucky to have wonderful mentors, but also opportunities. There's so many things at Pitt that have enabled me to become who I am.”
In addition to her studies, Li is the founder and CEO of Korion Health, a startup developing an app that acts as a stethoscope, allowing patients to accurately monitor their vitals and relay that information to their doctor.
Li and her team have raised nearly $100,000 in funding so far through venture funds, grants and competitions and are working on getting FDA approval for their technology.
Through her business, she hopes to empower patients, especially marginalized groups of people, to take control of their health care. Li said she’s personally experienced and witnessed health care issues where emergencies and injuries were exacerbations of preventable conditions.
“And it was just frustrating to see the same issues come up over and over again,” Li said. “There's also a lot of people that can't make it into a clinic, and there's not really any options for them.”
This was especially true for survivors of sexual assault, she said, who often aren’t comfortable getting undressed and being touched by strangers. The discomfort can lead to worse health care outcomes for these patients, she added.
Lesha Greene, director of national scholarships and post-graduation success in Pitt’s David C. Frederick Honors College, assisted Li with her application essay for the fellowship. Greene, who is also an immigrant from the Caribbean islands Saint Kitts and Nevis, said she’s proud of Li for receiving the honor.
“It's a tremendous achievement. The win rate, it's not that high — less than 2%,” Greene said. “So, I think that just speaks to not only her application but to who she is as an individual and the potential that she has to do great things in the future. Being a first-gen immigrant myself, that makes it even more sweet.”
Greene said she hopes Li’s achievements inspire students to take a risk and apply for similar opportunities, even if they don’t feel like they are competitive applicants.
“I think, for the Pitt community, it means that anything is possible,” Greene said about Li winning the fellowship. “And I think that just this just lets them know that hey, it's not only for people who go to the Ivy Leagues, but they are just as successful, and they have as much potential as anyone else.”
— Donovan Harrell, photo courtesy of Anna Li