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Department: Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Wanghenry Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Henry E. Wang ’90

Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine,
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

Practicality vs. passion

I spent most of my Princeton undergraduate experience torn between the logic of mechanical engineering studies and my inner repressed dream of becoming an orchestral conductor. In addition to serving as assistant conductor for the University Orchestra, I obsessively spent most of my free time (and a good chunk of my academic time) leading ensembles on and off campus. I honestly have no idea how I balanced a chaotic schedule of rehearsals and practicing with all of those daunting engineering problem sets.

Life after Princeton was sobering. I considered pursuing a graduate degree in conducting but couldn’t muster the courage to “take the plunge.” I worked several engineering jobs but found myself utterly uninspired. Volunteering at a local hospital emergency department and as an emergency medical technician for an ambulance squad, I finally found my calling in medicine.

A third way

Today, I enjoy a happy career as an academic emergency physician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. I split my time between working shifts as the “attending” in the emergency department/trauma center and performing NIH-funded research on paramedic medical care. And I finally found time to pursue another repressed college dream—road racing my bike.

If I could do it again, I would have followed my heart and majored in music. My job running a Level I trauma center is very much like conducting a symphony orchestra. Both roles require solid multitasking and organizational skills. Both positions require excellent communication and obsessive attention to detail. Above all, both jobs require exceptional leadership skills—as with the symphony orchestra, I must often motivate 100 people in the ER to work together. Of course I learned a lot from my engineering studies. But the key skills I depend upon today are the ones I learned on the conductor’s podium. My music experiences dominate my memories of Princeton and influenced who I am today.

Follow your heart when choosing your undergraduate major. College is less about gaining specialized skills and more about experiencing life and discovering yourself. It is the sum of your experiences—both in and out of the classroom—that ultimately shape who you are. Fate has a wonderful way of making everything come together in the end.