Cornell calling: UNNC graduate heads to the Ivy League

12 October 2023

Yiran Li 5-768x432

"Before entering UNNC, I was lacking self-confidence," Li Yiran, a Class of 2023 graduate, said, recalling her younger self. Four years ago, she chose UNNC, where she gained growth; upon graduation, she found herself in the midst of offers from top-tier universities such as Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, Duke University, University of Southern California, and Imperial College London. Yet, she has chosen the human-computer interaction research programme at the Ivy League institution Cornell University.

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Despite attending one of the top senior secondary schools in Sichuan Province, Yiran’s academic performance was not exceptional, which contributed to her lack of self-confidence.

During a recruitment presentation back in high school, a senior UNNC student left a deep impression on Yiran and her family with her distinctive self-assuredness and charisma. Yiran remarked, "That was the first time I realised that excellence can manifest in various forms, and everyone has their unique strengths."

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Upon her arrival at UNNC, Yiran quickly immersed herself in various activities inside and outside the classroom and engaged in enriching research practice. This process enabled her to resolve her internal struggles. Inspired by senior students, she joined the Campus Ambassadors, introducing the university to visiting guests. Taking the winter training programme organised by the Sport Department, she mastered ice climbing in Western Sichuan. However, what she holds as her crowning achievement was her three-month internship at General Motors, a global automobile manufacturing corporation.

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Yiran was assigned to a project of significant importance in the aviation industry - using AI to detect oxidation damage on aircraft engine blades, which was a groundbreaking achievement in the industry. She explained, "In the past, this task required operators to wait for the aircraft engine to cool down completely. This was not only time-consuming but also a high-risk operation. To address this, we developed a set of algorithms to replace human intervention with AI and machine learning, significantly improving the efficiency and accuracy of this task. The technical module I was in charge of was to migrate and adapt the existing data models to other airlines."

Ultimately, Yiran successfully completed the project, and this internship became the highlight of her résumé. She stated, "One of the key factors that won me the favour of many prestigious universities is that my performance at GM has won the recognition from the senior executives."

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Yiran has also been active in academic research. For her graduation project, she analysed the phenomenon of early loan repayments in the United States. She commented, "The industry usually focuses on studying how to prevent default by borrowers, but in reality, early repayment of loans is also a loss for the banks. It could be a loss of interest or customer churn for the original lender when the borrower chooses another bank."

Under the guidance of her supervisor Dr Anthony Graham Bellotti, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at UNNC, Yiran developed a machine learning model focused on credit risk. She recalled, "Throughout the preparation for my graduation project, he shared abundant academic resources with me and even gave me bespoke lessons. He provided me with tremendous help."

The interdisciplinary learning experience at UNNC also gave Yiran a deeper understanding of her chosen major.

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Through gradual accumulation at UNNC, Yiran rebuilt her confidence and found her own stage. She said: "At UNNC, success is not solely defined by grades. The university has provided many opportunities for me to stand on different stages and showcase my brilliance." Now, Yiran is well-prepared for even broader horizons.