Junior Geek of the Month: Mona Li empowered girls in high school and seeks similar path in college

Mona Li was already a student leader during her time at Garfield High School in Seattle, where she helped empower other girls and get them interested in technology and STEM-related fields.

Bank of America recognized that leadership this past summer by selecting Li as one of hundreds of Student Leaders for 2021, a program that helps prepare young people to enter the workforce through hands-on skill-building and leadership development.

Li, 18, is now a freshman at Cornell University where she is once again looking for ways to contribute to her community now and down the road.

And now GeekWire is choosing Li as the Junior Geek of the Month for September. The monthly honor presented by Northern Trust is in recognition of talented young scholars, innovators, creators and entrepreneurs in the Pacific Northwest.

Li’s intended major is biology and society, and interdisciplinary major that combines physical sciences as well as social sciences. It appealed to her because she’s on pre-med track and hopes to become a physician.

“I think healthcare is something that’s super important, but unfortunately not all socioeconomic demographics have equal access to it,” Li said. “So by studying biology and society, I’m hoping to get a very well-rounded perspective that will help set up a path as a physician in the future.”

Li is particularly interested in ensuring that youth from all backgrounds have access to healthcare resources and support. She’s interested in pediatrics and in outreach medicine which would target underserved communities. Some of that was driven home by her Bank of America internship with Treehouse, a Seattle nonprofit addressing academic and other essential support for youth in foster care.

“My work with Treehouse this summer was so impactful,” Li said. “I was able to learn more about youth in foster care, learning about the barriers that they have to overcome really made me want to go into that pediatrics field, and work with all youth from all backgrounds.”

Mona Li working at the Treehouse Store during her Bank of America Student Leaders internship. (Photo courtesy of Mona Li)

Bank of America senior vice president Britney Sheehan said the internship program has attracted about 300 community focused juniors and seniors every year since 2004. A diverse pipeline of students gets to see all aspects of nonprofit management and leadership, and build on the impact they want to have going forward.

“Mona’s a great demonstration of it,” Sheehan said. “She impacted her high school community and this summer she helped impact the greater Seattle community, and now she’s at Cornell and she’s looking for ways to make an impact there.”

In high school Li was a member of the Women in Technology club for four years, rising to vice president as a senior. She also founded a chapter of Girl Up at Garfield focused on girls’ skills and opportunities, and she focused on making sure girls had the support and encouragement to pursue interests in science, technology, engineering and math.

“This was something I was passionate about because in my sophomore year, in particular, I noticed there wasn’t a super encouraging environment, it was kind of competitive,” Li said. “I noticed some of the girls felt a little shy to speak up and ask questions when they needed help.”

The club fostered an inclusive environment, did team building activities, and helped connect younger students with older mentors. They also invited in guest speakers from local companies or did tours, including to Amazon’s Seattle headquarters where girls in the club got the chance to see careers and passions rooted in STEM.

Li also interned with the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the Burke Museum where she studied biochemistry, immunology, public health and climate change. And she was a volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo and a competitive swimmer at Garfield.

At Cornell she recently attended a club festival to again search out the type of community that will foster inclusivity and support.

“Women’s empowerment is really important to me, as well as social equity in general, and just making sure all demographics have access to resources and opportunities,” Li said. “That’s definitely continuing at Cornell and in the future.”

Read about our previous Junior Geek of the Month winners.

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Junior geek of the month Bank of america Garfield high school Mona li Stem