Willa Cai is a Madison native who currently attends the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a sophomore double-majoring in Computer Science and Psychology. Her path did not begin this way, however; originally, she dived into her freshman year expecting to devote her life to Molecular Biology, and perhaps explore the global health certificate. Willa then spent her 2014 summer interning at Bellevue Hospital's Emergency Department in New York City, and flew back to Madison having learned three things: that she loved problem solving, that she was happiest doing hands-on work, and that she could best give back to those in need by working with her passions.
This was not the first time she had come to this conclusion, but it was the first time she felt empowered to act upon it. Her childhood was characterized by hope and ambition, tempered by financial limitations. After immigrating to Wisconsin from China, Willa's parents supported their family in an iconically American way: delivering the news, paper by paper. Because of this, her parents impressed upon her the value of taking pride in her work, the beauty of having effort translate directly into outcomes, and most of all, the importance of education. They could not ignore the reality, however, that their situation did not allow themselves nor their children a safety net beyond the bare minimum, much less the peace of mind to encourage exploration and the risks that came with it. For Willa, this security was the missing piece that the Arndt Family Scholarship has provided. Beyond the opportunities that the Arndt Family Scholarship has directly made possible, it is the support from the Arndt Family that has given her the confidence to excel and wholeheartedly pursue her passions. In studying the inner processes of both computers and humans, Willa hopes to one day use this knowledge to break down barriers; both between technology and people, and between people via technology. This year, she splits her time between having far too much fun in her classes, assisting with exciting research in the Psychology Department's Addiction Research Lab, and fully embracing all that the UW-Madison campus has to offer.