Carnegie Mellon University
April 30, 2024

Lianna Huang Teaches New Tricks, Orchestrates Opportunities

By Kirsten Heuring

Heidi Opdyke
  • Interim Director of Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

Biological Sciences senior Lianna Huang flips from teaching to research to music and handsprings, all in one day.

"Doing different things in my four years at CMU was very important to me," Huang said. "People are very surprised that I'm involved in so many things and can balance them, but since I love everything that I do, it's always worth the extra effort."

Huang has been a member of the Carnegie Mellon Tricking Club since 2022. The club blends gymnastics, martial arts, breakdancing, parkour and other forms of movement.

"If you've ever seen people doing flips and tricks on The Cut on campus, that's us!" Huang said.

Huang was introduced to the Tricking Club by her friend Josh Lou. She found that the club's activities were similar to the gymnastics and contemporary dance she had participated with in high school.

"Joining Tricking Club was like finding a home for me at CMU because I could incorporate all of those skills that I learned and also learn new skills from other people who have different athletic backgrounds," Huang said. "I really enjoy it, and I think the diversity of everybody there has really enriched my experience."

Huang is vice president this year, and she coordinated social events and club masterclasses for members to teach each other new skills. She also performed with Tricking Club at CMU's Dancers' Symposium showcases.

In March, the Tricking Club hosted Carnegie Mellon's first intercollegiate tricking gathering. She helped coordinate the guests, including influencers in the tricking world such as Sam Lincoln, who provided a kicking techniques workshop to Carnegie Mellon students.

"Being able to interact with people we only see on Instagram and learning their wisdom and expertise was really inspiring," Huang said.

Her other longtime activity was performing with the All University Orchestra. A violist, her final concert was in April. She said that music has always been part of her life and having that experience at Carnegie Mellon meant a lot to her.

Lianna Huang leans against a railing and smiles at the camera
Besides being vice president of the Tricking Club, Lianna Huang conducts research with the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

Huang performs almost as many feats in the lab as she does with the Tricking Club and orchestra. She works with Shou-Jiang Gao, professor of integrative systems biology at the University of Pittsburgh, in his lab that is part of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. She investigates B-cells, immune cells that produce antibodies, and how they are affected by Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV).

KSHV infection can lead to cancer, which affects how B-cells function in the body. Huang's research focuses on cancerous cell growth and interactions between the KSHV and the host. So far, she has discovered that different infected B-cell lines respond differently to different treatments.

"Learning about the heterogeneity of those B-cells was unexpected, and I had to work on that trajectory instead of what I initially planned," Huang said. "It showed me that research can take so many different directions, and you have to be open to seeing where the results take you."

If she had to pick a favorite experience, Huang said she would choose teaching, whether as part of a StuCo or as a teaching assistant (TA).

"I really enjoy when I see students understand a difficult concept or come to the same conclusion," Huang said. "It's really rewarding to see students reach their 'aha!' moments and to share those moments with them."

Huang has provided those moments for other Carnegie Mellon undergraduate students as a teaching assistant for Emily Drill, assistant teaching professor of biological sciences, during experimental techniques in molecular biology in fall 2023 and experimental cell and development in spring 2024. Drill said that Huang's passion for teaching was evident.

"One day that Lianna was in her element teaching was the day we were opening chicken eggs," Drill said. "It had been a favorite experiment of hers, and upon arriving to class she jumped right in to help the students. You could see how she lit up in sharing her enthusiasm for the experiment with the students and how happy she was to be able to be in a role to share that experience with the class."

Huang also taught a StuCo on tea culture around that world with friends. She'd taken the course her first year via Zoom and enjoyed learning more about different tea traditions. She said sharing the course with others in person was exciting.

"I wanted to bring that experience to other students in person and actually try tea with other people, which I missed out on when I took the course," Huang said.

Huang plans to pursue a career in medicine. To prepare, she joined Carnegie Mellon's Health Professions Program (HPP) and took a mentorship role in Doctors of a Carnegie Society (DOCS). Jason D'Antonio, assistant teaching professor of biological sciences and the director of HPP, said that Huang's myriad of experiences have all prepared her in different ways.

"Lianna exhibits a strong commitment to community service and mentoring stemming from her ability to empathize with her peers and provide compassionate mentoring as a TA," D'Antonio said. "Given her passion for research, Lianna has also developed strong critical and analytical thinking skills that will serve her well in medicine."

During her gap year after graduation, she will be continuing her research at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and aims to complete her project while preparing for medical school. Huang said she is excited to make the leap from Carnegie Mellon to laboratory research and then eventually to medical school.

"I want to use medicine to take care of others," Huang said. "You can make such a great impact on the people around you."

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