Iowa City West senior wins $20,000 scholarship

Mary Li will travel to Atlanta for Coca-Cola program

Iowa City West High School student Mary Li at the school in Iowa City on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa City West High School student Mary Li at the school in Iowa City on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Mary Li has never been to Atlanta.

But the Iowa City West High School senior will be making her way there at the end of the month as one of this year’s 150 Coca-Cola scholars. She and Linn-Mar senior Sruthi Palaniappan were the only Iowans selected for the program.

Li, 18, said she found out about the program while looking for scholarship opportunities online. She was one of 84,000 students who applied.

“Then it was cut down to 2,200, and they wanted essays about how you contribute to the community,” Li said.

From there, 250 students were selected for Skype interviews with a Coca-Cola Foundation representative, an alumni of the program, and a Coca-Cola employee.

“They clarified things on my application and asked for details about my leadership style,” Li said.

Li found out two days later that she had been selected for the program. On March 31, she will travel to Coca-Cola’s world headquarters to take part in the company’s Leadership Development Institute. She also will receive a $20,000 scholarship.

Li said she’s not sure yet where she will be going to college, but she wants to major in psychology and go to medical school, perhaps specializing in ophthalmology.

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Li has been volunteering at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics since the eighth grade, and last summer worked in a research lab, focusing on cleft lip and palate deformations in Subsaharan African populations.

“I helped with DNA extraction and wrote a paper about it,” Li said.

Li was born in China and became a naturalized American citizen last year. She frequently returns to China to visit, and has volunteered with a charitable organization called Lifeline Express that provides free cataract operations to rural Chinese residents.

In addition to her interest in health care, Li is an accomplished musician who has played the violin since she was 6 years old. She takes lessons from the Preucil School of Music, plays in West High’s orchestra, and has been selected for the All-State Music Festival for three years.

She also is managing editor of West’s literary magazine, The Grapevine, takes part in swimming and diving, and helped found the school’s eSports video game club.

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