Stanford Professional Women of Los Angeles

2017 SPWLA Fellowship Recipient: Anna Zeng ’20

IMG_1295Dear SPWLA Community,

I want to thank you at the start for all of your generosity and kindness this past summer. I feel extraordinarily lucky to have been able to meet such a strong community of women, and the opportunities that I had to explore and grow both professionally and personally this summer were a direct result of your support.

This summer, I spent ten weeks working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a research center jointly run by NASA and the California Institute of Technology. As an intern, I was part of a team researching the ways that we could better predict the spread of dengue fever, the most common tropical disease in the world (a fact I learned this summer). In particular, my team focused on how to best use climate data from the satellites that JPL runs to find patterns in the relationships between climate and dengue fever, focusing on patterns across the world and throughout history. I worked on both exploring what types of questions and patterns we should be exploring in the data in the first place, and finding ways to test those questions using the large amounts of satellite data we had. Throughout the summer, I tried a variety of different ideas, ultimately finding some interesting conclusions about the way that climate-dengue patterns change across geographic location based on the overall climate of that geographic location.

Your support enabled me to focus entirely on our project this summer, which was an incredibly valuable gift, given the short ten weeks that we had together. I ended the summer with a chance to present my results to multiple senior scientists at JPL, a one-of-a-kind opportunity in itself. Most importantly, it was a chance to demonstrate the full applications of science and technology to human health, which is an area I hadn’t really thought about before this summer, and which I am now grateful to gotten the chance to learn about. With dengue fever itself, for example, I learned for the first time this summer the extent to which it affects people worldwide, which is a whopping 390 million people infected per year, according to the World Health Organization. At the minimum, I know I leave this summer with a new appreciation for the ways that dengue fever, and through that my project, continues to affect people’s lives.

In that sense, to me, this project combines the field of science with something I am really passionate about: people. Understanding how we think, how we act, and how we can influence each other and the planet is something that I find fascinating, and I am so thankful to you for giving me the chance to explore exactly that this summer. I am interested in the ways that we can use science and engineering to improve the quality of life of people, although as an undeclared sophomore, I still lack the specifics of how to go about doing that—which makes this summer once again an invaluable learning experience and an irreplaceable resource as I make decisions about my future.

Throughout this summer I had the freedom to work a flexible schedule, staying late when we had a particularly promising lead, or coming in early to talk to some of the really cool people working there. For me, those meetings with people of all different backgrounds were some of the most personally rewarding parts of the summer, and that flexibility is due entirely to your generosity, which allowed me to pursue those opportunities when they arose without worrying about the additional costs. In particular, getting to meet some of you at the SPWLA brunch and hear about your lives from Stanford and beyond was one of the most enjoyable moments of my summer. I really appreciate and value hearing your and their stories, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so.

I leave this summer still with many questions about the future and exactly what impact I want to make on the communities of people around me, but I can now say that I have a better idea of the answer. I am now certain that I want to continue to find ways to connect science and technology with public service, and although I may not yet know what form that will take, my experiences this summer have provided me with a greater confidence to make those decisions.

Thank you for allowing me to explore really what it means to be a scientist, leaving me with the lifelong lessons learned about my own values and goals and what impact I want to make working with others. I don’t doubt that I’ll look back to this summer as a turning point in my eventual career and life decisions, and I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you very much.


Anna Zeng
Class of 2020


A Message from the SPWLA Board

Please give generously to our SPWLA Fellowship Fund. Each year, SPWLA funds one or more Stanford women who apply for the fellowship, enabling our fellows to spend the summer working in the non-profit world. We are pleased to be able to help talented young women explore their professional interests while they are still in school. These internships reap important dividends in many different ways – both in the lives of the interns and in the Los Angeles community.

If you contribute $50 or more, you will be invited to our summer luncheon where we meet our new fellowship recipient (or recipients if we are able to fund more than one internship) and learn how the internship is progressing. All contributions are appreciated. It takes $3,500 to fund just one fellowship, so we appreciate your generosity. Please make a donation by contacting us at