By Ryan Goodwin | Photos by Jean Lachat

The University of Chicago’s Class of 2021 contains students with diverse interests—including aspiring scientists, innovative entrepreneurs and decorated athletes. Below are some of their unique stories:

Jaida Kenana

Jaida Kenana: A wealth of disciplines

Jaida Kenana developed a passion for martial arts when she was only five years old, when her parents found a newspaper flyer for karate.

“Through elementary school and middle school I competed in tournaments on the national and world scale,” said Kenana. “Once I moved to Kansas in high school, I stopped training in karate and became interested in mixed martial arts.”

Jaida Kenana with trophies and medals
Jaida Kenana poses with the trophies and medals she earned competing in karate tournaments from a young age. (Photo courtesy of Jaida Kenana)

Kenana would go on to study Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Capoiera and Muay Thai. She is drawn to martial arts for both the adrenaline rush and the critical thinking it takes to learn new aspects of different styles.

“I learned the art styles separately and grew a respect for the differences and similarities of different martial art styles,” said Kenana. “By learning them separately, when it came to sparring I felt that I could mix the styles together easier.”

Although Kenana wants to continue martial arts at UChicago, she plans to pursue a new discipline here—molecular engineering. She said she chose the University for its academic diversity.

Tim Chen

Tim Chen: Building business and community

Tim Chen found a new home in Chengdu, China, where he developed his passion for table tennis at a young age. It was there that he became interested in entrepreneurship and community, founding the company Tea Culture as a way to give back to the people who had accepted him.

“The city and the people immediately made me a part of their community,” said Chen. “For me, Tea Culture has always been about staying a part of that community and expressing my gratitude.”

The earnings from Chen’s company went to various causes in the Chengdu region— from advancing cultural preservation to youth programs and education. At UChicago, Chen has his sights set on more entrepreneurial opportunities.

Tim Chen playing table tennis
Tim Chen has competed on the U.S. National Junior Team and Japanese (U12) National Team, ranking third in his age group at his peak. (Photo courtesy of Tim Chen)

“I hope to carry the spirit of Tea Culture and galvanize it into a larger project, “said Chen. “Through the support of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, I aim to exercise many ideas I have in store, while searching for new problems and challenges.”

Chen is also excited to help build up the on-campus table tennis RSO, participate in civic engagement opportunities, and be actively involved with his new peers in Wendt House in Renee Granville-Grossman Residential Commons East.

“I can’t wait to go on the many adventures yet to come with my housemates,” said Chen.

Julia Hu

Julia Hu: Mapping uncharted territories

Julia Hu first became interested in dragonfly research in her high school’s AP biology course, when she worked with Rutgers University scholar Jessica Ware to analyze DNA samples of dragonflies from South Africa.

“I was fortunate enough to have sequenced the DNA sample of an unknown species of dragonfly,” said Hu. “Exhilarated by this discovery, I asked Dr. Ware if I could continue pursuing this research over the summer.”

Hu would conduct research on the larval association of dragonflies and damselflies over the next six weeks, and she is currently working on a paper on the new dragonfly species.

Julia Hu conducting research
Rutgers University scholar Jessica Ware (left) examines DNA tests performed by Julia Hu (center) and John Bokman. (Photo courtesy of the Peddie Chronicle)

It’s the enjoyment of learning and challenging herself and others that led Hu to UChicago, where she could find like-minded peers.

“I like that the Core curriculum provides a common language that unites all students,” she said, “and I found that the University's values such as involvement in the surrounding community and a holistic approach to academics resonate with my beliefs.”

And another thing Hu is excited about? Scav. “I am excited to see what wild shenanigans will occur during this event.”

Gabriel Hull

Gabriel Hull: Forging a unique sound

When Gabriel Hull’s friend asked him to play keyboard in a band he was starting in Chicago, Hull agreed, even though most of his experience was in classical music and not rock.

“The first two years or so we really just messed around. We couldn’t settle on a genre or sound,” said Hull. “We made a few recordings in one of our basements and put them on SoundCloud. Eventually, after adding a guitarist, we began to shift toward playing psychedelic rock and started sounding a lot better live.”

Hull was an eighth-grader when his band Aethereal started. After years of developing their music, playing in local dive bars, and using the money they earned to record a single at a professional recording studio, Hull and his friends saw their work pay off.

Gabriel Hull playing keyboard
Gabriel Hull plays keyboard in the psychedelic rock band Aethereal. (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Hull)

“The Hard Rock Cafe reached out to us, and we were part of a sold-out tribute show to George Harrison,” said Hull. “Just recently, we played in a psych-rock festival with bands from across the U.S.”

Hull plans to continue his involvement with music at UChicago, but he has high hopes for finding new possibilities in his studies. He is considering a double major in applied math and either anthropology or philosophy, and is also interested in continental philosophy and critical environmental studies.

“I'm really excited to learn as much as possible and UChicago is obviously a fantastic place to do that,” Hull said.

Originally published on September 26, 2017.