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Graduation Day Brings Degree and Engagement Ring for Two UTHSC Scientists

The post-graduation luncheon for the College of Graduate Health Sciences seemed the perfect time to Zongtao Lin to ask Xian Han to marry him. (Photos by Thurman Hobson/UTHSC)

At the recent UTHSC College of Graduate Health Sciences spring graduation, Zongtao Lin got a PhD in medicinal chemistry and a fiancée.

Dr. Lin, 29, used the time allotted to each graduate to introduce family and friends during the post-ceremony luncheon to pop the question to Xian Han, 22, a student in the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Program at UTHSC.

All eyes were on the couple when he knelt, asked Han to be his friend for life, become a member of his family, and marry him. She said yes.

“I was very nervous, because it was a big audience from a diverse background,” Dr. Lin said. “Everyone was very supportive, and I’m very grateful for that.”

Han, 22, said she felt shy in front of the crowd, but found the marriage proposal touching.

Han, too, said she felt a little shy in front of the gathering. “His love was touching,” she added.

Donald Thomason, PhD, dean of the College of Graduate Health Sciences, learned about the proposal shortly before it happened. “It is wonderful to see our students embarking on their professional careers, and also on their life journeys,” he said. “It was a treat for everyone.”

The couple are from neighboring provinces in China. They had not met until their paths crossed at UTHSC. As a former president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, Dr. Lin was asked to take some new students to the Cricket phone store near campus.

That was August 9, 2016. “I remember clearly that day,” he said. Han was one of those students. They became friends, and began dating early this year, he said.

Dr. Lin said his fiancée is wise beyond her years, and is supportive of his career.

“He is a very thoughtful person and cares for our future,” Han said. “And he is an excellent scientist.”

Dr. Lin has spent five years at UTHSC working in the lab of Wei Li, PhD, professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy, researching drug development for inflammatory diseases and cancer.

Last month, Dr. Lin won the Robert A. Magarian Outstanding Podium Presentation Award at the MALTO Medicinal Chemistry-Pharmacognosy Meeting, a research conference that allows graduate, undergraduate, and professional students to present their work. In March, he received the National Award for Outstanding Self-financed Chinese Students Studying Abroad presented by the China Scholarship Council. He is the recipient of the Alma and Hal Reagan Fellowship at UTHSC, and has published 36 scientific papers.

No wedding date has been set. Han plans to continue her studies at UTHSC, and eventually get her PhD. She is currently working in a lab at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital studying Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Lin is interviewing for postdoctoral positions.

But they share a special bond. “I love science and research from my heart,” Dr. Lin said. “She also loves science, too. So we have something in common.”