College of Science

Math Major Rui Zhao Story

After Rocky Start, Student from China Hits Her Stride at CPP

rui zhao

From Despair to Destiny – Math Major Rui Zhao’s Story

Applied Math and Statistics, Graduation March 2016

Growing up in Shenyang City, in the Liaoning Province of China, Rui Zhao built her hopes and dreams on coming to America. Being the first from her family to go to college, she was excited about getting a first-rate education.

Rui worked hard in high school and ended up being ranked among the top students in her province.  Her college placement scores opened the door to her dream when she was admitted into Cal State San Marcos.

At the age of 20, she left home, said her goodbyes to her parents and ventured by herself to America.

Rui settled into her life in America and started her classes. As the quarter continued on, she quickly found out how ill prepared she was for the fast-paced challenge of college in America. Although she had learned English in China, she found her language skills inadequate for the rigor of her classes.

Rui did not understand what her professors were teaching, and was too scared and nervous to ask them for help. Unfortunately, her grades slipped and she ran out money.  Rui was unable to get a job with her student visa, and for the first time, she started to panic.  Her dream was crumbling as time went on.

Alone, scared and out of money, she dropped out of school.

“I felt incredible pressure. I was a top student in China who was failing out of my classes in America,” said Rui. “I did not understand the language and I was scared to ask the professors for help.”  

Feeling like a failure with no one to turn to, she suffered alone.

“I did not tell my parents when this was going on,” said Rui.  “I did not want them to worry about me or truly know how much I was struggling out here.”

She did not want to quit. After researching her options, Rui discovered that community college was a way to save on expenses. Although she initially thought this move was a failure, it ended up being the blessing that helped get her dream back on track. She started her next chapter at Mt. Sac.

At Mt. Sac, things began to get better for Rui.

“Professors really helped me get focused on my academics,” said Rui. “They gave me advice that I still remembered to day.”

She tried her hand as an economics student since she likes numbers, but changed to mathematics because of a professor’s guidance.

“At Mt. Sac, my physics professor pulled me aside and asked me about my major,” said Rui. “He advised me that I go into a science because he could tell that I was doing well. I decided to become a math student and it has really paid off.”

Upon completing her academic requirements at Mt. Sac, Rui decided to attend Cal Poly Pomona.

“At first I was hesitant about attending Cal Poly Pomona,” said Rui. “But I am glad that I chose to attend after all. The professors really care about you. The faculty and staff are great, and they have given me precious advice that has helped in my career at Cal Poly Pomona.”

Currently, Rui is a student assistant for the College of Science in the Dean’s Office, which allows her to be financially independent. Based her academic achievement in the classroom, she has also earned two scholarships through the math department.

“I really appreciate the opportunity to have a job on campus,” said Rui. “My first job was from Jenny Switkes, associate chair from the math department. She had me grade assignments for Dr. Brian Jersky, Dean for the College of Science. After that quarter, Dr. Kristine Hartney, Associate Dean for the College of Science, needed someone for the annual report and Dr. Jersky recommended me. I have been with the dean’s office ever since.”

 “Rui is the whole package for a successful student. She has natural gift for math, as well as a tenacious spirit that is able to work through adversity and succeed,” said Dean Jersky. “She truly represents the best and brightest at Cal Poly Pomona.”

Upon her completion at CPP, Rui has plans to attend graduate school.

“I want to apply to UCLA or UC Berkeley,” said Rui. “Before I attend grad school though, I want to get some on the job experience and save up money for grad school.”

Rui is interested in pursuing a career as an actuary. “An actuary analyzes the financial risk of clients in regard to insurance and pension plans,” explains Rui. “I enjoy the thought of using my math skills to strategize for customers.”

Rui has high aspirations, but if anybody can achieve them, it is her.

“I am tougher than who I used to be,” said Rui. “I have come this far on my own, why not continue to go further?”