Anita Zhang

Anita with two other students in cap and gowns

Why did you choose Cornell?
Anita with about 15 friends smilingI chose Cornell because I got the impression that Cornell has exciting academic opportunities and truly embraces a diverse range of people. Academically, Cornell Engineering's curriculums offer both breadth and depth, and I loved that Cornell's undergraduate students can participate in research and in project teams. Socially, Cornell's students and faculty members come from so many different backgrounds. The possibility of befriending all those brilliant, fun, and lovely people was very appealing to me. Looking back, Cornell really has reached my expectations and beyond.

Tell us about why you chose civil engineering:
Growing up in Shanghai and then in a suburb right outside NYC, I understood from a young age that good infrastructure can bring resilience and equity to communities around the world. Throughout high school, I contemplated the idea of becoming an urban planner or an architect but decided that organization or art isn't exactly my forte. As someone who has always been relatively good at math and physics, I figured that being a civil engineer will be my way to contribute to the built environment. Actually, after being exposed to so many new things during my first semester at Cornell, I initially developed some hesitations. However, my wonderful experience on my project team, Cornell Seismic Design, convinced me to stay in civil engineering.

What hobbies did you do in your spare time while at Cornell?
I was an alto in the Cornell Chorale, a co-ed choir consisting of undergraduate students, graduate students, professors, Anita with friends staff, and community members. I had so much fun making some beautiful music with some really awesome people every week. When I'm not doing that or working on academic things, I enjoyed spending time with my friends. We regularly cooked, hung out on the slope, and explored Ithacan restaurants and thrift stores. At various points of my time at Cornell, I also partook in theater performances and in the Big Red Marching Band. Although I didn't end up sticking with the last two activities, I had some good memories there as well.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I will hopefully have both my P.h.D and my P.E. license. I see myself solving challenging problems in the built environment. I also want to be working to bridge the gap between laboratory research and the civil engineering industry. As the oldest engineering discipline, civil engineering needs new innovations to progress without complacency. I don't know whether I will help in the capacity of a university professor or a research and development engineer in a company, but I know that I want to bring knowledge, tools, and better practices to the industry. 

What’s the next step for you?
I graduated in December. Prior to this summer, I was working at Taitem Engineering in Ithaca. I am interning with Arup's Advanced Technology and Research team this summer for the second time. Then I will start my Ph.D. at Princeton University this Fall. I will be doing research on sustainable, high-performance alternatives to Portland Cement. 

Any advice for undergrads?
Try out all sorts of activities and classes. Don't be afraid of anything that looks intimidating. Also, enjoy what you do and embrace the people you do it with!

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