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Isle grad is named as Rhodes scholar


Punahou School graduate Jennifer Lai — a Massachusetts Institute of Technology double major, future physician and classical pianist — can add this to her resume: Rhodes scholar.

The 21-year-old is one of 32 American students to receive the prestigious scholarship this year to study at Oxford University.

Lai will start in October at Oxford, where she will pursue a master’s degree in integrated immunology before entering medical school.

Lai, a senior at MIT, is majoring in biological engineering and music.

As an undergraduate she has conducted research in the molecular basis of glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, and the use of engineering toward the development of potential treatments.

Lost? Don’t feel so bad.

Her father, an internist at the Queen’s Medical Center, said even he got a bit flummoxed when he read one of his daughter’s scientific papers.

These days, Chang Dich Lai is as proud as a doctor-dad can get: All three of his daughters chose to follow in his footsteps and pursue medicine.

His other daughters, 26-year-old twins, are in their second year at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Lai, a native of Taiwan, came to Hawaii for his residency at Queen’s and stayed.

"I wanted my children to have a better education," he said.

He added that if his daughters’ successes are attributable to any parent, it would be his wife, Violet.

The winners of this year’s Rhodes scholarships in the United States were announced Saturday. About 80 scholars are selected worldwide annually from a candidate pool of thousands.

Those who know Jennifer Lai were not surprised to learn she received the prestigious honor.

Sheryl Dare, her high school English teacher at Punahou, said Lai is one of those students you just don’t forget.

"She is, as you might expect, pretty brilliant," Dare said. "She was easily at home doing a problem set in calculus as she was teasing out a question in philosophy or English."

Dare said she still marvels at how "hemispherically balanced" Lai is. That is evident in Lai’s love of both science and music. (Lai was also a competitive swimmer at Punahou.)

Lai said yesterday that she knew since high school she wanted to pursue medicine.

Her dad did not push her into the career, but instead served as a solid role model.

"It would kind of be dinnertime conversation," Lai said.

Her father said he was beaming when he found out his daughter had been chosen for the Rhodes scholarship.

But he added the proudest he has ever been of her came this summer, when she participated in a benefit concert for the Hawaii Youth Symphony.

She raised $2,000 for the group, of which she had been a member.

At that moment, Lai knew he and his wife had raised their daughter right.

"She knows how to give back to the community," he said.


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