Shi Qing “Steffi” Kong, a senior at Sullivan Foundation partner school Converse College, is no stranger to deadly viruses. As a child in Singapore, she survived SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) at the age of 7 and the H1N1 virus (better known as the swine flu) when she was 10.
“Of course, I am worried about getting [COVID-19],” she told GoUpstate.com in early May. “But I joke with my friends: Third time is a charm. Either I become a victim or maybe I potentially become superhuman.”
We’re betting the latter. But whatever happens with the coronavirus – and here’s hoping she doesn’t get it – Kong will likely become a big success. Now a standout student-athlete and the Converse tennis team’s No. 1 singles player since 2016, Kong is also the recipient of the Sullivan Foundation’s prestigious Mary Mildred Sullivan Award for 2020. With her degrees in biochemistry and psychology in hand, Kong plans to attend medical school and ultimately practice psychiatry in the U.S.
“She’s a gem,” Katie Mancebo, Kong’s tennis coach at Converse, told GoUpstate.com. “I’ve never met someone who is harder-working or more disciplined. She just excels at everything she does. She’s probably every coach’s dream as a student-athlete.”
In April, Kong became the first student in Converse history to win the Murphy Osborne Scholar-Athlete Award, the highest academic award for a student-athlete in the Conference Carolinas.
“I am grateful to be given the opportunity to study in the United States and be able to have a different experience outside of continuing my education in Singapore,” Kong said. “It’s because of generous scholarships that I am able to attend Converse and accomplish great milestones.”
Kong has presented her research and publications at two national conferences and one international conference—a rare privilege for an undergraduate student. She made biophysics presentations at the Materials Research Society Fall Meeting & Exhibit in Boston in 2019 and the South Carolina IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence Science Symposium in Columbia, S.C. in 2020.
She also presented her psychology research at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Annual Convention in Atlanta in 2019. Dr. Marie LePage, one of Kong’s psychology professors at Converse, collaborated with her on the presentation. “On our way driving home from the Atlanta conference, she just lit up like a Christmas tree,” LePage told Conference Carolinas in a profile on Kong. “That’s special for a student to get that jazzed about therapy. She’s just genuinely passionate about it. She wants to be the best she can be. I’ve taught thousands of students, and she ranks among my top five in terms of being an advanced scholar. But when it comes to passion, she absolutely ranks No. 1.”
After her freshman year at Converse, Kong returned home for the summer and volunteered at a mental health institute. After her sophomore year, she interned at the Kidney Foundation in Singapore. Her senior honors thesis was titled, “Stress, Depression and Anxiety: The College Student Dilemma,” with a strong focus on the differences between student-athletes and non-student-athletes.
“I know she is very interested in medicine,” LePage said in the Conference Carolinas interview. “Whether she goes into psychiatry or general medicine … she will be exceptional.”