Get more with UChicago News delivered to your inbox.
Class of 2025 joins intellectual, creative community at UChicago
First-year students share their unique accomplishments, inspiration for choosing UChicago
As the Class of 2025 joins the robust intellectual community at the University of Chicago, five first-year students in the College share their diverse backgrounds, myriad of interests and hopes for the upcoming year.
After watching his older brother earn a medal in chess then five-year-old Awonder Liang knew he wanted to win one for himself. He soon did that—and much more.
Coached by his father, Liang quickly found enormous success in tournaments, both nationally and globally. In 2011, he took the under-eight world championship in the World Youth Chess Championships in Brazil. The next year, he became the youngest player ever to defeat a grandmaster, the highest title a chess player can attain. At 14 years old, Liang became a grandmaster himself—the third-youngest American to earn the title.
Liang credits chess for preparing him for UChicago’s rigorous academic environment and describes his playing style as defensive.
“One of my favorite moments in chess is when I'm defending a losing position,” he said. “And it's gotten to the point where I even joke with my friends that I'm not able to play chess unless I'm in a lost position, when my back is against the wall, and I'm fighting to save my life.”
Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, Liang was drawn to UChicago for its proximity to home as well as the people he met during his campus visits. He plans to study economics, and is eager for the academic rigors and community-building opportunities of College life. He has also already met some members of the UChicago chess club.
“College is a chance to get out, meet some new people and get to a level of academics that I haven’t been to before,” he said, “for which I’m a bit nervous about, but also excited.”
For more than a decade, Raquel Buriani has been sewing with recycled materials—paint tarp, window blinds, bedsheets and coffee filters. A Miami native, she hopes to blend her passions for art and science through the pre-medical neuroscience major and gender and sexuality studies minor at UChicago.
“My parents definitely emphasized to my siblings and me to be very ethical and sustainable,” said Buriani. “I’m a first-generation, low-income (FLI) student, and from a very young age, I kind of gravitated towards sewing and designing because of how resourceful you could be and also how inexpensive the art is.”
Using a second-hand antique Singer sewing machine, Buriani began creating clothing for her vintage doll set early in elementary school. When she enrolled in a fashion course in seventh grade, she eagerly memorized the different fabrics, textiles and silhouettes.
With the support from her teacher and fashion mentor, Buriani entered the FCCLA Fashion Construction competition and won state and district gold medals in both seventh and ninth grade. She also took gold in the 2019 FCCLA STAR Event in the Recycle and Redesign State category, and received a 2021 YoungArts Merit award in design arts. Buriani also received an offer to compete on “Project Runway: Junior,” which she turned down in order to discover her true calling as a designer.
Inspired by her love of Jane Austen and Victorian literature, Buriani now plays with romantic, ultra-frilly aesthetics when constructing her garments and headpieces. She hopes to one day create historical costumes for small and big screens alike.
“Instead of more wearable pieces, I liked extravagant costumes, things that you couldn't wear to your local Trader Joe's,” she said. “So I started to dabble into costuming and how I would interpret the characters in my favorite books and novels.”
Buriani wants to maintain the personal and intimate quality of her designs, and to learn more about the impact of fast fashion. She also hopes to learn more about bioindicators and global warming while at UChicago: “I feel like art really helps me figure out who I am on an artistic level, but I feel like science, especially neuroscience, really teaches me more about how I work scientifically.”
Growing up in a family of doctors, Chahak Pahwa’s passion for STEM started from an early age. Through deep discussions about health care, she realized that a deep knowledge of STEM is crucial to solving some of the world’s biggest problems.
As a high school student in Mumbai, India, she observed a gender gap between the number of men and women pursuing STEM careers. Since her female peers didn’t find the math and science curriculum interesting or engaging, at the end of her junior year, she and a friend decided to co-found GirlSTEMpowered, an initiative meant to create long-term interest among female students.
Through a series of webinars and posts curated on modern STEM topics, the initiative educates girls from around the world on careers in the field and connects them with college-aged STEM majors. As co-founder, Pahwa organizes virtual opportunities for women in STEM to connect with one another and has grown the community to nearly 2,300 people.
“One of the biggest successes has been girls thanking us for being part of the organization and having the opportunity to explore STEM more,” she said. “I also had the opportunity to get to know other girls, from all around the globe, who have also started their own initiatives to spark change in their communities.”
Along with boosting enthusiasm for all things STEM, Pahwa is an accomplished dancer. At the age of five, she began training in ballet and branched out to contemporary dance and classical jazz. Drawing on her passion for teaching and mentoring, she worked as a ballet teacher for young girls.
At UChicago, Pahwa feels grateful that the Core curriculum will allow her to explore all of her interests. She intends to double-major in biological sciences and economics with a business specialization, and hopes to join the Global Health Alliance, UChicago PERFCO and Women in Business.
A skilled welder and civic engagement leader, BJ Moses-Rosenthal searched for a college that was both academically and environmentally diverse. He found it in UChicago, just 45 minutes from his home in Glencoe, Illinois.
“I feel like UChicago is an environment for people who want to learn and are passionate about whatever they're pursuing,” he said. “And that makes me so excited.”
On campus, Moses-Rosenthal plans to double-major in math and anthropology, and is looking forward to meeting professors and conducting research. He also hopes to explore different avenues, including through the UChicago Brazilian Jiu Jitsu club and Amnesty International, a refugee rights focused RSO.
As the president of his high school’s social service board, Moses-Rosenthal helped a few hundred students per week get involved with charitable works, ranging from serving food to unhoused Chicagoans, to tutoring and mentoring children with social or emotional trauma.
During the pandemic, he continued working with Imagine Englewood If, a non-profit dedicated to empowering South Side community members. By mentoring students and helping them with their homework, Moses-Rosenthal was able to ease their transition to online school.
Before attending UChicago, he took a gap year to work on Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, canvassing remotely and helping register voters. In the same year, Moses-Rosenthal also found joy working for his family manufacturing business, creating custom equipment for solar and automotive industries as well as packaging.
“The skills that I learned from welding, I see myself applying to other disciplines,” he said. “For example with a proof in math, each aspect has to flow, one to the next. [With a complex machine], if you mess up on one bracket in one corner, then all of a sudden, you have to rework the entire machine. So you have to be really thinking, and making sure that what you're doing works out that way.”
As a junior in high school, Jordana Hozman and three of her fellow students invented Sip ‘N Clip, a portable clip cup holder that fastens to a desk to decrease workspace clutter and minimize spills. Placing as a quarter finalist in the INCubatoredu National Pitch Competition, Hozman and her team hope to sell the product in stores and online in the future.
When she is not developing new products, Hozman is passionate about women’s empowerment and gender equality, as well as business and STEM. In 2020, she organized Women Mean Business, a three-day virtual conference that brought together around 200 female and non-binary high school students who are interested in the intersection between business and STEM.
With a roster of mentors from fields such as consulting, technology firms, law and engineering, the conference offered professional development skill sessions, including resume-writing, interviewing and LinkedIn profile-building. In future years, Hozman hopes to make this an annual conference with in-person attendees.
“The most rewarding part of the whole experience was the notes I received and the conversations I had with attendees throughout the conference who said that the best part for them was seeing someone who looked just like them excelling in their field of interest,’’ said Hozman, who grew up in Highland Park, Illinois. “That was really what made it all worth it for me.”
Hozman is looking to pursue a double-major in economics and public policy while contributing to the South Side community through organizations like the Institute of Politics and the Office of Civic Engagement.
“I was really energized by UChicago's environment, where everyone's excited to step into each day with the anticipation of learning something new, and then acting on it,” she said. “I think the College's nature of intellectual curiosity and discovery, including the core which will allow me to explore my diverse interests, was kind of the cherry on top for me.”
Get more with UChicago News delivered to your inbox.