Honors Alumni Spotlight

  • Alumni Portrait
  • Xiangyue Wang
  • SAS '21
  • Major(s): Mathematics, Physics
  • Minor(s): Philosophy

Activities: The Rutgers Senate, SASHP Peer Mentor, the Dream Project, the Hult Prize Business Competition

What attracted you to Rutgers University and the Honors/Scholars Program?
There aren't many major life decisions that I made based on a single reason. Choosing a college was one. Back in my senior year of high school, I had three options for college: Reed College, NYU, and Rutgers. I wanted to go to Reed; my parents wanted me to go to NYU, and I ended up choosing Rutgers because it cost about a third of the other two. My parents were not happy with my choice. NYU was more selective and prestigious. I wasn't quite happy either: Rutgers was my safety school. But the moment I realized that I would use up most of my parents' savings by going to Reed or NYU was the moment I decided to go to Rutgers. What I wanted from college was this: a liberal arts education with rigorous training in math and physics in a tight-knit community. In retrospect, I got everything I wanted from Rutgers and SASHP. Rutgers is amazing in that it not only is a large public university with numerous departments, but its departments are top-ranking across the humanities and sciences. We are exceptional in philosophy, history, creative writing, jazz performance, computer science, physics, math, and so much more. Rutgers offered me the chance to create a liberal arts education with far more options and far more resources than those available in a small liberal arts college. Any other college with such breadth in offerings and depth in quality, be it private (Harvard) or public (Oxford), is far richer and more selective. At Rutgers, I minored in philosophy and took classes in dance, French, social entrepreneurship, and public health. I trained in one of the top math and physics programs by professors who once taught at Ivy League schools. By the time I graduated, I only wished that I had more time--I want to spend another four years here and take advantage of all it has to offer. Above all, I loved SASHP. It is a brilliant idea: having the benefit of a small liberal arts college community with the resources of a large public university. Furthermore, the people who make the idea come true are what end up mattering the most, and I loved the people of SASHP. I think any academic advisor/dean in a school can be evaluated based on a single question: do you feel like they care? Our deans care and it shows. They take the time to plan events such as the winter ball or countless trips to museums to make us feel like a part of a community. They established the peer mentor program for SASHP students to support one another. They established the student programming board to help organize events that we want. They are there for us when we need them: for my entire sophomore year, my dean met with me weekly just to plan out my to-dos for the week because that was what I needed. There is no doubt in my mind that SASHP is one of the top honors programs in the US because I know how excellent our deans are.

Why did you choose your major and/or minor?
 I majored in math (general track) and physics (professional track); I also minored in philosophy.

Tell us a little bit about what you're doing now. What was your first job after Rutgers? Where you do you live? What was your first job after Rutgers? Where you do you live?
Because I saved so much money going to Rutgers, I went for a master's in data science at NYU after I graduated, where I designed a curriculum focusing on data-driven climate solutions. Had I gone with the other two options, I would probably be working straight after college due to the guilt of having spent my parents' savings. I will start a PhD at the University of Oxford next year, where I will be studying how quantum computers and machine learning can help to create a reliable power system based on 100% clean energy.

What has been your greatest professional and/or personal accomplishment since you graduated from Rutgers?
I used to think that I was bad at time management, but I realized that time management was the wrong idea. Habits are what our days come down to, and my life will be the result of my habits. I think my greatest accomplishment since I graduated from Rutgers is building routines in things that I wish to do and get better at.

Was there a class and/or experience at Rutgers that led you to pursuing your current career?
I spent my senior year in my bedroom as Covid engulfed the world outside. When I abruptly moved back home, I found the future hard to imagine. My aspirations for the future lived in the uncertainty of the future itself. I had planned to study dark energy after college, but I couldn't focus on my coursework. In an honors seminar named "Visual Culture and Crisis", we discussed how crises are defined and communicated. I was in a state of crisis, meaning I encountered an event that destroyed my standard of normality, and, as a result, demanded my immediate action. I didn't think I could prevent another pandemic from happening, but I knew I could do something about the climate crisis. With my technical background, I decided to focus on data science so that I could create scalable and timely solutions. For my physics thesis, I reached out to an engineering professor to work on wind energy forecasts, something I had to learn from scratch. I applied to a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REUs) program in Alaska and spent three months there doing climate research after I graduated. Looking back, I feel like my generation was born into a state of prolonged crisis--we constantly encounter many events that destroy our standard of normality, and as a result, demand our immediate action.

What three words describe your experience at Rutgers and the Honors/Scholars Program? 
Way. Too. Short.

How has your Rutgers and Honors education benefited you in your post-Rutgers life?
Learning physics, especially the professional track, was terribly difficult for me. I also think I have forgotten about 90% of the things I learned since then. Had I known how tough it would be, I probably wouldn't have done it, but I am glad that I did because it gave me something priceless: it gave me the confidence to learn anything. I chose to major in physics knowing that if I could do it, I could follow my curiosity to any discipline knowing that I could be an expert if I wished. I don't think any other major would have given me that. Since I graduated, I have done a master's in a different field and I am about to do a PhD in a field that doesn't even exist yet. It still feels scary and I still have doubts from time to time but I have the courage to learn difficult things because I know that I learned physics, and most people won't even try.

What advice do you have for our current SAS Honors Program students?
Your education is a creative work of work and you have this amazing opportunity to work on it with all the resources of Rutgers. Make it something that calls to you. Ask yourself this question: What would I like to do if I could not fail? Use your answers to determine the direction you want to go. (Find directions, not goals) Build daily routines that help you make good use of every day. Limit your study time and learn to get work done in that time. You cannot take care of your school work if you don't take care of yourself.

Are you a Rutgers Honors alum? Be featured in an upcoming Honors Alumni Spotlight by completing our online submission form.


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