Pittsburgh Campus
Ones to Watch

Richard Su Fang

Richard Fang wearing blue Pitt hat and sweater
  • Students
  • David C. Frederick Honors College
  • Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

The U.S. Presidential Scholar is already exploring research opportunities and taking on leadership roles.

Richard Su Fang was in an AP Psychology class when he learned he would be a 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholar.

While studying for a test at his Newtown, Pennsylvania, high school, he received an email notification on his cell phone that caused him to “low key freak out,” he said. Fang quickly excused himself so he could inform his family and a teacher who'd provided a glowing recommendation.

As a member of the 57th class of scholars, Fang joined a group of 161 students of the nation’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors. The program, established in 1964, is one of the country’s highest honors for graduates.

“It's cool to be recognized,” said Fang, who, along with Catherine Cavanaugh, is one of two Presidential Scholars currently attending Pitt. Both students are in the University Honors College (UHC) and were featured in a video shared by the Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

“To be selected as a Presidential Scholar is an incredible accomplishment and a very rare honor,” said Nicola Foote, dean of the Honors College. “Richard’s outstanding work since he joined the UHC highlights exactly why he was chosen for this recognition. As a first-term honors student, he has worked to become involved in research and leadership at the highest level and is already preparing for his first academic conference. Richard is an exceptional young scholar, and I can’t wait to see what he achieves on the rest of his Pitt journey.”

Fang, a first-year biology student in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, is the kind of person who maintains momentum in all things academic, research and extracurricular.

“I don't like to be idle,” said Fang, who’s on the pre-med path. “Keeping myself busy with things I'm passionate about really helps. Yes, I worked hard to get this scholarship, but I must keep at it; this isn't the end. I want to have a continuous upward trajectory."

In high school, Fang was senior class vice president and captain of the tennis and debate teams. He also participated in volunteer opportunities, including spending a summer at Penn Medicine’s interventional radiology department, where he assisted nurses on a patient ward and transported patients around Pennsylvania Hospital. This experience and another with the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center have set him on the path to medicine.

So, Fang came to Pitt confident in his career path and ready to take advantage of the University’s cultural, academic and research offerings.

The skills I learned and the education I received at High School North were excellent and honestly prepared me for college," he said. But his hometown was “very typical white America suburbs.” His parents worked to keep him connected to Newtown’s small but unified Asian community — a task he’s continuing for himself at Pitt.

This September’s Mid-Autumn Festival, hosted by the University’s Asian Studies Center and Global Hub, provided him and his floor mates an opportunity to explore Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong cultures.

“I'm good friends with everybody on my floor, which is mostly white, meaning they didn't know a ton about the festival,” said Fang, who celebrated by attending performances in the William Pitt Union and making homemade dumplings with friends. His involvement with the Asian Student Alliance and the Chinese American School Association have also helped him form friendships and cultural ties.

“It's cool to have all these other people on campus to share this with who understand the culture," said Fang.

In addition to exploring Pitt's cultural offerings, Fang is taking on leadership roles. He recently joined the Student Government Board’s First Year Council, a group that helps members develop leadership skills and immerse themselves in projects important to campus.

He’s also exploring research opportunities.

“I like helping people and view research as a means of helping a wide scope of people versus a more individualized approach,” said Fang. Still, he values patient interaction and aims to find a way to incorporate “that bench to bedside research approach in clinical work.”

One event he’s looking forward to is the 2022 ACCelerate Creativity and Innovation Festival in Washington, D.C. Zuzana Swigonova, a biological sciences lecturer and early mentor, invited Fang to attend.

“She does work with 3D printing for things like proteins and DNA molecules for visualization purposes for class-based projects that enable people to see and better understand them," said Fang.

He’s also looking for more opportunities to work with professors on lab-based projects. 

“I have the chance to engage with remarkable people here,” Fang said.


— Kara Henderson