Yuanyuan Zhong MS’17: Building a Better Future

Zhong says Columbia Engineering's strong interdisciplinary approach and its rich cultural diversity--both on campus and around New York City--attracted him to the school.
—Photo courtesy of Yuanyuan Zhong

From greener buildings to smarter infrastructure, civil engineer Yuanyuan Zhong MS’17 has always been fascinated with constructing great things. It’s a lifelong passion he traces back to his grandfather, a prominent and prolific civil engineer in China.

“When I was a child, he always showed me the fantastic bridges and buildings he worked on, which impressed me a lot,” says Zhong, who grew up in Shanghai watching the city transform into an ultra-modern metropolis. “That made me consider working in the field of construction a great job, not only to become a person like my Grandpa, but also to give me a chance to [make] a huge contribution to my country.”

To accomplish that, Zhong set out to gain an international education, seeking to integrate ideas from around the world. Previously, he’s studied at Tongji University in China and Technical University Munich in Germany. He was drawn to Columbia Engineering by the interdisciplinary academic atmosphere and cultural diversity of both campus and New York City—places with no shortage of construction going on.

Zhong has been able to take full advantage of that proximity. For instance, for his master’s in construction engineering and management, Zhong’s studies focused on the convergence of technology and management, figuring out how best to coordinate core steps of the construction process. Much of this work has consisted of practical exercises for a range of real world projects, such as when he teamed up with fellow students in a course on real estate finance and construction management to create a restoration proposal for New York’s aging Port Authority Bus Terminal.

“It was an amazing project for gaining real world experience,” he said. “Each group produced complete business plans, including design models, market studies, and financial reports, [while doing] our best to highlight the uniqueness of our proposals.”

Zhong credits his professors, especially his advisor Julius Chang, with not only providing practical knowledge but helping to cultivate his “soft power,” like leadership and communication skills. It’s proved useful in many opportunities to network with alumni and industry practitioners, and after graduating in December he plans to return to China to work with a firm in Shanghai on both commercial complexes and smart residences.

“It’s been the best way to learn something,” said Zhong, who also served in the Columbia University Chinese Students and Scholars Association. “I’m ready to truly make full use of the knowledge we’ve learned in class.”

by Jesse Adams

500 W. 120th St., Mudd 510, New York, NY 10027    212-854-2993