Major Choices : Vol.II home page       prev | next

Department: Civil and Environmental Engineering

Wangyusi Civil and Environmental Engineering

Yusi Wang ’95

Director of Alumni Services, Citizen Schools

A desire to study bridges

Growing up in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, I have always felt a connection to the elegant and functional design of bridges. Particularly after taking Professor Ahmet Cakmak’s introduction to structural design (and designing a castle drawbridge for my final project), I was hooked on civil engineering.

Fantasies of reinforced concrete and structural analysis software aside, I had selected Princeton for the opportunity for engineers to take 20 percent of their classes outside of their major and to engage in a rich liberal arts experience. Thus, I also feasted on courses in comparative literature, African American studies, religion, and psychology, and on profound seminars on the Holocaust and the history of science. I helped win Princeton’s first women’s rugby national championship. I volunteered in Belize with the Student Volunteers Council, worked at an architecture firm for a summer in Munich, toured with the University Orchestra in California, and proposed and codesigned an engineering course that spent spring break in Istanbul. I made incredible friends. What a ride!

The choice—consult or design?

After graduation, I spent two years in the United Kingdom on a British Marshall scholarship, studying for an M.Phil. in technology and development at the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex. In addition to playing Ultimate Frisbee across Europe, I learned the theory behind managing technological innovation in a firm, sector, or nation, and wrote my thesis on innovation in the construction industry. When I returned to the States, I faced my first substantial professional fork in the road: continue my safe, marketable, and intellectually stimulating path and become a management consultant (as so many Ivy League engineering graduates do) or actually become an engineer. Flush with the idealism about sparking an innovation revolution in engineering, I joined one of the most respected design consultancies in the world—and lasted all of nine months. Princeton had not prepared me for the real world and real culture of civil engineering.

Building bridges in society

Four years and a few careers later—including business strategy research and consulting, which was in fact very stimulating—I found my true calling: building social bridges instead of physical bridges.

I now work for Citizen Schools, a national network of out-of-school-time programs that improve outcomes for middle-school youth through hands-on, volunteer-led apprenticeships. In my work, I help youth and adult volunteers bridge age, race, class, and background. I think daily about how to build systems that will support underprivileged students to make successful transitions from middle school to high school, college, and beyond. These bridges, while invisible, can be just as elegant, functional, and well designed as our physical bridges—and are arguably more important. After four years with Citizen Schools, I still think in physical metaphors and in terms of building strong, stable systems out of interlocking resources. Combined, engineers’ logic and innovators’ idealism are powerful tools for social justice.

“caption”