Winning artwork shows bright future

schandler@newsobserver.comJune 2, 2013 

Like many high school seniors, Chi Le of Chapel Hill has a vision of her future in mind. Her watercolor and pencil depiction of that vision earned her a $1,000 scholarship in the national Frame My Future contest.

Chi was one of five winners of the contest, which challenged participants to share their hopes for their personal and professional future through creative expression. More than 9,000 students submitted photographs, essays, collages and other art forms along with a brief written explanation. Judges at sponsor Church Hill Classics, a company specializing in diploma frames, chose 24 finalists, and then the five winners were selected through public votes online.

Chi, 17, used watercolors and pencil to show her vision for “creating an AIDS-free generation,” an effort she hopes to assist through a medical career. Her artwork shows a world map, a child’s face and a red ribbon – the iconic symbol of AIDS awareness – that she said she purposely left incomplete “because we have not eradicated it.”

“I have always been really interested in HIV,” Chi said, “and when I first thought about framing my future, I knew that my work in HIV in the future would definitely be a part of it.”

She has done lots of research on the subject already, first for a local United Nations contest and then for an internship with Project GRACE, an HIV intervention program that works in rural parts of North Carolina.

Before all that, “I always thought (HIV) was something that only happened in poor countries,” said Chi, who lived in Vietnam until age 10. “In America, you know it’s a problem, but you don’t think it’s that severe.”

She attended a medical forum at UNC where she heard the real situation from experts and from HIV-positive patients.

“It was something that was really eye-opening,” she said. “I didn’t realize that even in such an advanced country like America, people are still suffering from this illness.”

This fall, she’ll take the first step in her medical career at Emory University in Atlanta, where she plans to study medicine and math.

“I want to become a doctor who specializes in infectious disease and work in my clinic with HIV patients and provide them with treatment at lower cost,” Chi said. Ultimately, she said, it’s her “dream goal” to work for the United Nations’ AIDS program.

More immediately, however, her future holds the transition to college. While Chi is pretty set on where she wants her career to end up, she’s eager to take in as much as she can along the way.

“I’m just looking forward to trying new things,” she said. “I’ve always been really focused on science and math. … I want to take more writing classes and history classes, things (in which) I haven’t really branched my ability out and I never really know if I’d like it or not.”

But she’s unlikely to take her eyes off her goal of getting involved in the fight against HIV. She quickly added that Emory has an HIV research center, and she’s hoping to get an internship there or just “do something to be a part of it.”

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