Xiaoxiao Taoli ’20 is an inquisitive thinker with diverse interests who craves community and believes in maximizing her opportunities. That’s why Gettysburg College was the perfect school for her.
An international student from China, Taoli was no stranger to American education. She attended a high school in Baltimore and lived with a host family whom she affectionately calls her “American family.” That experience was so positive that she knew she’d continue with higher education in the States.
When Taoli began her college search, she was looking for a few crucial elements: a tight-knit community, a liberal arts experience that would permit her to explore multiple interests including education, and strong research opportunities that allowed for close mentorship relationships with professors. In Gettysburg College, she found all three.
“Smaller liberal arts colleges like Gettysburg are the perfect environment to build tight connections and deep relationships with other students, professors, and the larger community,” explains Taoli. “Gettysburg offers so many opportunities to work and volunteer on campus and off, take part in various clubs and leadership programs, partner with professors on research, and get to know your community.”
Taoli wasted no time building connections. She immediately began working in campus food services at The Bullet Hole and The Dive. She says, “I really like to cook and serving people in our Gettysburg community makes me feel good.” Taoli also volunteered at the Painted Turtle Farm, a campus-community hub for food justice, where she helped maintain the farm and prepare the crops for harvest.
Academically, Taoli chose to major in physics partly because of the influence of her “American Dad” who is a physics teacher, but also because she worries about the underrepresentation of women in STEM careers. “I want to show it's possible for women to do anything and to overcome the stereotype that STEM is for a certain gender.” In fact, Taoli cares so deeply about this issue that she volunteered in local Gettysburg schools mentoring young women in LEGO Leap, a program that teaches robotics. She adds, “Some girls told me they heard messages like, ‘Girls should not play with robots or girls should not do computer science.’ I’m trying to make sure these girls explore their interests, feel supported, and see that there are female college students successful in STEM.”
While Taoli’s major is physics, she’s equally passionate about her minor: education. Education and teaching is in her blood. Both of her parents are university professors in Southern China. In addition, her “American parents” are both K-12 teachers. Taoli says Gettysburg particularly stood out to her because of the quality and reputation of its education program.
Taoli wanted tight-knit community connections; she found them.
A liberal arts education that allows her to explore multiple interests including education? That too.
Research opportunities? Definitely.
Taoli engaged in not one but two research projects that were aligned to her diverse interests. First, she took part in Gettysburg’s X-SIG (Cross-Disciplinary Science Institute) summer research program with Physics Prof. James Puckett, studying schools of fish and their collective behaviors. “One of our main goals was to seek to understand the collective behavior of fish through the context of material science and physics,” says Taoli, who utilized image processing and tracking algorithms to distinguish individual fish from each other and ascertain trajectories from raw experimental footage. “Through that experience, I definitely improved my research skills, like collecting and analyzing data, as well as critical thinking, communication, and presentation skills.” Secondly, she worked closely with Psychology Prof. Kathleen Cain, examining how college students develop leadership, and then exploring how young people develop their concept of an “American” identity.
At the end of this school year, Taoli will graduate from Gettysburg. She plans to attend graduate school in the fall and to eventually return to her native China to become a teacher.
Taoli advises others to take advantage of the immersive opportunities available at Gettysburg College. “In the Gettysburg community, there are so many chances to build relationships and develop them. If you do that, you will surely get more and more opportunities for growth and learning.”
By Katelyn Silva