Melanie Zhou, the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholar in Career and Technical Education Award recipient
Melanie Zhou is a graduate of ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo. and a 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholar in Career and Technical Education Award recipient, is currently studying biological engineering at Stanford University.
First Generation Immigrant
Before Melanie was born, her parents and sister immigrated from China to Singapore to the U.S.; she was the first person in her family born in the U.S. She attributes her success largely to the sacrifices made by her parents to ensure she could receive the best education and opportunities in the U.S.
“My family’s history is a strong motivator in my desire to succeed,” she said, “I hope to make my family proud.”
For many young Asian Americans, exploring and finding their own identities is a common discovery while growing up. From a young age, Melanie learned how to balance her two identities: Chinese and American. She attended school Mondays through Fridays with her English-speaking teachers and classmates, and then participated in Chinese language school on Sundays. However, living with two cultural and racial identities can be “hard emotionally and socially,” Melanie said.
“Being at the intersection of two cultures means the opportunity to learn twice as much; to contribute twice as much; to love twice as much. I am very proud of my identity and how being Asian American is a big part of it.”
The Oasis Project
Melanie started The Oasis Project after a classmate committed suicide in Spring 2018. The project aims to destigmatize the mental health conversation in high schools and beyond because mental health is overlooked and disregarded in society.
“Especially in Asian culture, mental health is not a popular topic of conversation,” Melanie said.
She and her team build physical mental health “oasis” rooms in high schools that provide counseling support and innovative coping techniques. The nonprofit or
ganization has delivered treatment to more than 3,000 students. They have piloted a physical “oasis” room at ThunderRidge High School and will be expanding to three new locations in this upcoming school year.
When Melanie and her co-founder Mia Hayden first started the project, one of the challenges was to gain credibility as high school students.
“Many adults would dismiss us because of our youth,” she said.
However, Melanie and her team pivoted and used their youth as an advantage. They created a self-sustaining merchandise revenue model based on Gen-Z buying habits and participated in many entrepreneurship pitches.
After successfully pitching for $10,000 from the Fight Back Foundation and $100,000 from Denver Startup Week, the organization really took off!
(Melanie Zhou and her friend)
Receiving the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholar Award
Due to her strong community involvement and excellent academic achievement, Melanie received the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholar in Career and Technical Education (CTE) Award.
This award recognizes the nation’s top 20 students who have demonstrated accomplishments in career-related fields like business and technology. Unlike the larger U.S. Presidential Scholars Award (161 students selected), which is based on SAT/ACT achievement, the CTE Award requires a nomination from the Chief State School Officer and strongly factors leadership and community service.
“I was very surprised to receive this award. It’s still hard for me to fathom,” she said.
This experience also further sparked Melanie’s interest in exploring technology and neuro-engineering as it relates to ment
al health. She is currently studying biological engineering at Standard University, and she believes neurotechnology could potentially provide an equitable solution to many mental health struggles that exist today.
Melanie’s current career goal is to expand Oasis and bring it to college campuses. Beyond that, she hopes to join the startup industry after college and create a successful company that connects technology, mental health, and social responsibility.
Follow her on Instagram at: @melanie.zhou
Learn more about The Oasis Project and sign up to receive updates at: oasismentalhealth.org.