Iryna Zenyuk has two huge goals in life: To be a chess champion and to help the environment. She has a good start on her chess goal, ranking as one of the top 10 women players in the U.S. And she is active with her second goal too, currently pursuing a masters degree and eventually a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. She plans to use the degree to develop ways to make renewable energy more prevalent. Iryna defines her interests this way: Chess is her love, it's fun. But mechanical engineering will give her the means to give back to society.
Iryna will undoubtably fight hard for her passions, as she is used to that overcoming long odds and adversity. Iryna's father died when she was 8 and her mother moved to the U.S., leaving her and her brother in the Ukraine alone until Iryna could join her 6 years later. "It taught me to be independent," she says without a trace of bitterness.
Other interests play a big role in Iryna's life too. Although only 5 feet 4, she was able to play volleyball in college. And these days dancing, particularly Latin and cha-cha, has become a main pursuit. Furthermore, she is friends with many of her chess competitors. "I have a lot of chess friends. We do the normal stuff: hang out, go to restaurants ... I don't call myself solitary."