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Student Stories

Senior Spotlight: Jenny Liu Zhang

Tell me a little bit about your journey to the Academy. What were you looking for in an undergraduate program?

When I was eight, I was ridiculously passionate about flash games on the internet. I made all sorts of fan graphics online, and I eventually taught myself Photoshop and HTML. Soon, I wanted my own website, but my parents refused to buy one for me because they didn’t trust what I was up to on the world wide web. In retaliation, I entered graphic design competitions online where the winning prize was a domain name until I won one. My first website was imajenation.net, and I was officially a web designer.



In high school, I designed newsletters and websites for non-profits and community organizations. I also learned how to screenprint logos and t-shirts after school. My favorite subjects were history and English.

The college app process was highly confusing for me. I was interested in computer science, English, political science, and art school. I actually wanted to apply to USC for engineering or journalism. As I was scrolling through the list of schools to apply, I saw the Iovine and Young Academy. I had to quickly research it because it was the only school at USC without a self-explanatory name. Choosing to attend was my gut choice. I didn’t see myself in any other kind of classroom.

Describe a passion project you’re currently working on or interested in?

www.plottwisters.org and www.jenny.world.

Plot Twisters are reflection activities to open the story of your education, career, and life. I'm creating a digital world of personal metrics, metaphors, mnemonics, and storytelling tools to help to reveal the "cookie trail" of your experiences.

jenny.world is the home of my own cookie trail, in the form of a public diary and dissertation.



What inspired the project?



Balancing my explorative hobbies with an academic and social life growing up generated a lot of anxiety for me. Plot Twisters are my own coping mechanisms turned into accessible activities. Making them is like designing a gift for my inner child.

I believe we're all more powerful than we know. Education should be the first chapter in unraveling our style, habits, and tendencies so we know how to harness our power. It should teach us how to use that cookie trail for good. This requires mindfulness, which is sorely missing in the classroom. My career goals start with democratizing the process of mindful self-reflection. I want us to understand the threads that tie together our educational and personal journeys. Eventually, I hope to re-contextualize education as a step in a career of world-building, "journey learning" experience—imagine if we could treat our jobs as a part of "Earth's To-Do List." My Plot Twisters take a first step toward this vision: in the future, there will be an ecosystem of products that help us reflect on just how much power we each have, and how to use it intentionally.

Stylistically, Plot Twisters is inspired by Highlights Magazine, Mad Libs, Neopets, Club Penguin, and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster—some visual staples of my own childhood.

Is there a leader or mentor who inspires you?

I want to earn the impact of Maria Montessori, live adventures like Marco Polo, build a world like Walt Disney, think as intricately as Italo Calvino, practice what I preach like Eleanor Roosevelt, stay loyal to my ethics like Wendell Berry, and be as strong as my mom.

Is there an inspirational quote you live by?

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

What advice would you give to a freshman?

Use college as a time to practice how to not be a robot. You will need to fill your resume, build social clout, and make money. These things are important, but recall why they exist. They are metrics to assess your abilities to be a good teammate, an open friend, and a hard worker. Keep these values closer than anything. Deep down, you know what they look like for you.

I also recommend taking an improv class!

Describe one thing most people don’t know about you?

I’m very good at limbo.

What the one thing your parents taught you that you’d like to share?

Life is about two things: love and work. Find what you love, and work for it.

Fun Facts:


What are the essential things you always keep in your backpack?

Water, lip balm, and my Kindle.

Favorite app or website?

Genius.com.

Favorite class at USC and why?

“Bookpacking the Big Easy” with Professor Andrew Chater. This class was part of my English minor as a Maymester. Twelve of us went to Louisiana for a month to read seven novels where they took place/where they were written. We visited Grand Isle, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and assorted bayous to read, write, explore, and think. I can’t imagine a month at that point in my life better spent.

Favorite way to de-stress:

I like to sing, dance, and draw plants (@plantsbyjenny on Instagram)!



Guilty pleasure?

Flaming Hot Cheetos.

Thank you, Jenny!