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Aid offered in Zhang’s memory

Kristen Durbin | Friday, February 22, 2013

When Saint Mary’s then-freshman Ziqi Zhang entered electrical engineering professor Alan Seabaugh’s office last year to discuss her application for a summer NDnano Undergraduate Research Fellowship (NURF), Seabaugh said she knew Zhang was a special student.

“You could just see she was very mature beyond her years … not so self-centered,” Seabaugh said. “She was just open to everybody and wanted to know about all different things. We decided to offer the position to her, which was very rare for that to happen for a freshman.”

Zhang spent the summer of 2012 doing research in a Notre Dame nanoscience lab. Just months after completing her fellowship, the sophomore from China died in a bike accident near the entrance of Saint Mary’s campus Oct. 18.

To “carry her memory a little farther,” Seabaugh said one of this year’s NURF fellowships will be dedicated to Zhang. 

“We wanted … to honor her because she touched everybody here in a big way,” he said. “I think none of us appreciated her as much as we did after all this happened because she touched so many people. You know she touched you, but you don’t know how she touched others.”

Seabaugh said this fellowship will be awarded to a student who expresses Zhang’s zeal for lab research early in his or her undergraduate career.

“We wanted to make a fellowship … that will engage people at a young age and get them in the lab as she wanted to get into the lab at a young age,” he said. “It’ll give us a chance to share some stories we had about her, maybe use her life and the things she did around here to inspire others.”

Saint Mary’s chemistry professor Toni Barstis, who advises the dual-degree program in engineering in which Zhang participated, said the dedication of the fellowship was meaningful.

“I’m humbled and deeply grateful to Dr. Seabaugh for this dedication,” Barstis said. 

Zhang’s generous and energetic spirit made her “great to work with,” Seabaugh said, and he was affected by that spirit when her family came to South Bend from China after their daughter’s death.

“[Ziqi] inspired me with the way she treated others,” he said. “Her family was also incredible. … You might think they would be angry about the decision to allow her to come [to Notre Dame], but they said they were honored that she did come. It was incredibly generous and the kind of spirit she had too. It came from her family.”

The fellowship is flexible in the area of research it could support within engineering or science, Seabaugh said. 

“We’ll be very open about where the fellowship will go,” he said. “We’ll just find the person most interested in their field of choice.”

Seabaugh said the intention is to continue funding a fellowship in Zhang’s honor each year.

“We decided in our local community to offer it for this year for now,” he said. “But maybe someone will come along and feel like this is a useful thing to endow.”

Although the application window has officially closed, Seabaugh said students could technically still apply because final selections have not yet been made. Interested students should contact Seabaugh, Barstis or Notre Dame professor Heidi Deethardt for more information.