Ruiran Xun’s interests are as varied as his experiences. The recent graduate left Carnegie Mellon University with a dual bachelor’s degree in chemistry and computing and a minor in collaborative piano. She loves research, teaching, and musical theater, and wanted to engage in all three while at CMU.
“I am extremely grateful that during my four years at Carnegie Mellon, I have been able to take part in a myriad of experiences and as a result form meaningful friendships with people from very different backgrounds,” Xun said. “Going into college, my biggest goal was to immerse myself in my interests and have a more concrete understanding of who I am as a person. I don’t think I could have done that in any other school.”
In addition to her degree, Xun received honors from Mellon College of Science College at the 2022 launch. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa – one of the most exclusive honor societies in the world – in the fall 2021, and she was selected as an Andrew Carnegie Society Fellow.
Xun received the K&L Gates Prize, a $5,000 prize announced at the launch given to an undergraduate graduate student who has inspired fellow students to love learning through a combination of intellect, high academic achievement, commitment with others and character.
“As a teaching professor in the Department of Chemistry, I have been advising undergraduate students for nearly three decades and teaching for nearly four decades. I have worked with thousands of CMU alumni and current students,” said Karen H. Stump, director of undergraduate studies. and Mellon College of Science labs and academic advisor to Xun. “Ruiran rises to the top of very few students I have known during this time in terms of his academic talent, drive, and breadth of interests and talents, all of which are underpinned by the ability to more mature to manage an incredibly full list of activities and courses.”
In high school, Xun became fascinated with chemistry and computer science and couldn’t choose what to focus on, so she decided to pursue both.
As she approached her second year at CMU, Xun reached out to Kevin Noonan, an associate professor of chemistry. “I said, ‘Hi, I haven’t taken a lab class at CMU yet, but I’m really interested in research and I really like what you’ve done. If you could take me there , that would be awesome'” Xun said. “Essentially, the rest is history.”
In Noonan’s lab, Xun worked on organic and polymer synthesis that resulted in a paper submitted for publication.
“It’s rare for someone to step into that kind of space and be a real force, always forward and progressing,” Noonan said. “Now she’s co-authored a paper and she’s figured out how to make a class of compounds that are essentially unknown. She’s accomplished this with only 10 hours a week of work during semesters. I can only imagine what she could accomplish in a full-time position.”
Xun learned that she liked applied chemistry and theoretical computer science. Her love of teaching led her to become a Teaching Assistant (TA) in Imperative Calculus Principles in the fall of 2019 at the School of Computer Science. After seven semesters as a TA (including summer 2021), Xun will be an official instructor for the course this summer, co-teacher with another former TA, Aaron Meyers.
Xun’s love of chemistry and computing is balanced by his dedication to collaborative music productions.
It was his high school theater teacher who told him that collaborative piano, a musical discipline that combines interpretation, accompaniment and pedagogy, was an area of study. When she arrived at CMU, the first thing she did was contact the School of Music faculty and ask if she could pursue a minor in collaborative piano. The lesson sequence is generally only offered to piano students.
“I learned a lot about vocal technique and pedagogy while performing for the subclass lessons and practices, and had the opportunity to participate in rehearsals for two of their main operas,” Xun said.
Xun performed as a rehearsal pianist for CMU’s Scotch’n’Soda Theater productions. She quickly learned how the organization works and how to conduct music effectively, which involves teaching music to actors, conducting the pit orchestra, and many associated responsibilities. She conducted the music for three major musicals with Scotch’n’Soda: “Mama Mia!” in April 2019, “The Rocky Horror Show” in October 2021 and “Rent” in April 2022.
“I’ve been involved in probably 95% of Scotch’n’Soda productions since I came to CMU,” Xun said. “It’s been a crazy time. I’ve learned a lot, not just on the musical side of things, but also just balancing being a friend while trying to maintain a sense of professionalism when working on a show. .”
Now that she’s graduated, she’ll spend the summer teaching, then head west to Santa Clara, Calif., to begin her work with Palo Alto Networks, where she interned last summer. .
“I would love to have a comfortable day job and work at the theater next door. There are so many great regional theaters in the area, so I think I’m pretty well prepared to try that and see how it goes,” says -she.