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Gateway Scholars: Profiles

Yiyi Zhang '14

Lei Li '14

Shanny Habas '14

Shukai Zhang '15

Chen Zhang '15

Yingnan Guo '15

Fei Li '15

Yuxin Yang '16

Zixuan Xiao '16


Gateway Scholar Profile: Yiyi Zhang ‘14

by Xinxin Yu '14

Yiyi Zhang, an international student from China, is majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Economics at Brandeis.  She applied here because she read Tuesdays with Morrie and was attracted by Brandeis’ strong liberal arts education.  As a Gateway Scholar, Yiyi joined our community in the summer of 2010.  “Gateway helped me to prepare well psychologically and physically through these intensive summer classes, which made me realize the challenging workload in college and American education.  Special thanks to my tutor last year who made me realize my potential and gave me more confidence to learn what I want to learn.”

Originally, Yiyi wanted to study Sociology.  However, after exploring different fields, she discovered her passion for Philosophy.  Yiyi said that at first she had concerns that the field may not be a good fit for her, but she knew that it was something that made her truly happy and decided to go for it.  Now she is really pleased with her decision: “Philosophy provides me with different perspectives about life and I want to explore and to see a bigger world.  Taking Philosophy classes has improved my critical thinking skills and my ability to explain complicated ideas using simple and easy-to-understand language.”

Over the past year, Yiyi has become involved in Global China Connection (GCC): a world-wide non-profit organization that builds up deep friendships between university students and fosters the understanding of China within an international context. She said that she gets to know a lot of amazing people through GCC's unique platform and has become lifelong friends with other members. She is currently the Vice President (External Focus) of GCC's Brandeis chapter.  Yiyi is also the campus ambassador for the Teach For China program.  “I am always interested in activities that are related to China and want to contribute to my country,” she said.

Yiyi will spend all her junior year intensively studying Philosophy at the University of Oxford in England.  It will be difficult for her to leave Brandeis because she loves it so much here.  “I have met so many great people, who are sincere, smart and very helpful.  I am also very pleased that I had a chance to find my interest, philosophy, which I would not have if I were in China.”

Zhang has a few suggestions for coming Brandeis students: “College is the best time ever in life to explore whatever you are interested in.  Brandeis is a great platform to give you the freedom and choices.  Do not worry too much about jobs or careers. It will work out eventually. Go with your heart and enjoy college time.”

Yiyi will surely bring her intellectual courage, curiosity and hardworking spirit to Oxford and will have a great time in the U.K.

Lei Li

“Always be yourself and believe in you”: an interview with Lei Li ‘14

by Xinxin Yu '14

Lei Li ‘14 is an international student from China who is triple majoring in Philosophy, Economics, and Business.  He joined the Gateway Scholars program in 2010, which he said helped him to recognize the gap between American and Chinese students and to better understand the American academic structure. Also, since the program, he has kept up communication with professors, which he claims is very important and useful for future academic success.

A very confident individual, Lei is always trying to challenge himself. He does not like to make assumptions and limitations about what he can do. He explains, “nothing is impossible and you can always be the first person to break conventions.” He shared his experience of applying to Harvard University: Harvard was his dream school and decided he wanted to apply there. At that time, even his parents did not encourage him to do so and questioned him about how it would be possible. He did not listen to them, but instead followed his heart. He tried to find Harvard alumni in China and impressed one alum who wrote him a recommendation letter.  To his surprise, he got an interview opportunity, and Lei flew there all the way from China.  Even though Harvard did not accept him in the end, Lei’s persistence and determination to reach his goal had already led him to go further than his parents had ever expected. His philosophy in life is to “go for your dream and always try, which is the only way to make it come true.” Lei said that “maybe I will not succeed, but I would regret it if I do not try.” Lei is very happy about his life at Brandeis and he has had a great experience here, which perhaps he would not have had at Harvard.

 At Brandeis, Lei has done very well academically. He is able to manage an intense workload with three majors and currently has a 3.83 GPA in Philosophy.  Lei says his way of studying is interest-driven, which means he first has passion and motivation about the subjects and then makes an effort to learn while enjoying the process of learning.  He has enjoyed Philosophy since a young age.

Additionally, Lei has a strong social life at Brandeis. In his freshman year, he helped raise over $5,000 for Haitian and Tibetan refugees as a member of "the Phront" club. Lei is also the founder and president of the American Student Investment Study Connection club, as well as the founder and treasurer of the Collegiate Masonic Society International.  He has also been the Philanthropy Chairman of a literary organization.

He has accomplished all of these achievements by reaching out to new people. He explained that he was not confident about his English at the beginning, but he pushed himself to get out of his comfort zone and, as a result, his communication skills have greatly improved.  He now feels very comfortable hanging out with American friends. He emphasized that good oral English ability is very important for international students because it will help them to feel secure in the U.S. Lei recommends that students should not only associate with people from their own country.

Lei ‘s interest in finance led him to choose to study abroad at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) next year.  He chose LSE because it has the reputation of being one of the best institutions in the world to study Economics and Philosophy.  Although he will miss Brandeis, he is greatly looking forward to this opportunity.

When asked about his life goal, Lei replied with great confidence and pride, “to be myself and to be a person I want to be and always have a good attitude for life.”  Hopefully Lei will always hold onto these goals at LSE, Brandeis, and beyond.


Interview with Shanny Habas ‘14

by Xinxin Yu '14

Shanny Habas, from Tel Aviv, Israel, is a sophomore majoring in Economics and Psychology at Brandeis. She is going to study abroad one semester in Hong Kong and one semester in Shanghai during her junior year, focusing on learning Chinese and experiencing the culture.

Shanny came to Brandeis in the summer of 2010 as a Gateway Scholar.   She thought that the idea of the Gateway program was great because through the program she became prepared for an American college workload and adjusted smoothly when the fall semester began. Also during the program, she got the chance to visit Boston and became familiar with the area. She said that one of the great benefits of the Gateway program is that she made so many good friends. Before the fall semester even started, she felt very comfortable and secure because she had these friends to hang out with. She encourages future Gateway Scholars to seek out new friends, even if it means leaving one’s comfort zone.

A very open-minded girl who loves traveling and experiencing diverse cultures, Shanny said that her identity is built upon all the trips she has had, different people she has met, and various cultures she has been exposed to. She said that “all these experiences and adventures have influenced me and they are presents to my life.” Shanny loves change and she wants her life to be full of excitement. She said that life is short and people only live once, so she hopes to spend her life traveling and seeing the world as much as she can.

Shanny’s next exciting stop is China, where she will spend her junior year.  She explained that she decided to study there because at Brandeis she was given a lot of opportunities to interact with Chinese people, as well as friends who are learning Chinese and are passionate about the country.  They encouraged her to study abroad there.

Since she has not previously studied Chinese, the new environment will certainly be a challenge for her.  However, she has confidence in herself and will study really hard in order to succeed.  Although Shanny has already been to Hong Kong several times, she is very excited about this opportunity since she will be in China for a whole year.  Shanny will certainly enjoy her time there and will be able to share her new proficiency in Chinese with her friends back at Brandeis during her senior year.


Self-Profile by Shukai Zhang '15

Shukai Zhang ‘15 is an international student from China who is planning to double major in Biology and Business and triple minor in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. He joined the Gateway Scholars community in summer 2011. Unlike most Chinese students studying at Brandeis who come from Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangdong, Shukai is the first undergraduate student from Harbin, the city of ice and snow. Thanks to his Brandeis experience, students in Harbin get to hear about the wonderful liberal arts education Brandeis provides, and two students from Harbin decided to come due to his recommendation.

Shukai likes a variety of new things: in high school he interned/volunteered in a TV station, a hospital, a newspaper, a restaurant, and a bank. He had a special column for a game magazine, created a Pokemon theme website that has more than twenty thousand members, directed a movie, founded a club, and participated in a robot project. He is also a big fan of skiing. His curiosity to try new things and to challenge himself drove him to the decision of studying abroad. His wide range of interests led him to study a variety of subjects at Brandeis too. Shukai says he’s lucky that he came to a school that focuses on liberal arts education so he can major in different things and be a well-rounded student.

At Brandeis, Shukai was elected by the student body to be Castle senator and attend Student Union Senate weekly meetings. As a senator, Shukai worked hard to improve campus environment and to represent the student voice.  He is also a member of three University Committees: University Dinning Committee, University Service Committee, and Campus Operations Work Group Committee.

Shukai is interested in prospective students considering Brandeis, especially his fellow Chinese students, so he decided to become a Brandeis Admissions Student Ambassador for the Office of Admissions. While attending summer school at Brandeis, Shukai volunteered to be the mentor for the incoming Gateway Scholars, since he knows firsthand the anxiousness that many international students feel when they first arrive at campus.

Shukai is also attending a variety of clubs, such as the Brandeis Skydiving Club with which he jumps out from an airplane every semester!  He is also currently starting his own club at Brandeis.  In addition, Shukai works for the Gateway Scholars Program as an Office Assistant to further assist with building a better relationship between the Gateway students and faculty.

In the following semesters, Shukai will volunteer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the world-renowned affiliate hospital of Harvard Medical School. He is interested in the U.S. medical and health care system and is passionate about learning the western medical system and its strong points. In the future, Shukai wishes to find a job both connecting medicine and business, as well as connecting China and America.

Chen Zhang

Interview with Chen Zhang '15

By Shukai Zhang '15

Chen Zhang '15, an international student from China, is double majoring in Business and Health: Science, Society, Policy [HSSP] and minoring in Theater. Chen joined the Gateway Program in the summer of 2011, which helped him prepare well for his new life at Brandeis. During that summer, he became familiar with the workload of American college. Even though it was challenging for him, he believes that "things might seem to be very difficult when you are trying to accomplish them, but you will be impressed by the achievement of yourself afterwards. Nothing is a big deal".

Chen considers himself to be a very outgoing and sociable person, and would like to make friends from every culture. He also takes advantage of the small class sizes at Brandeis, and claims “you can always see me in my professors’ weekly office hours seeking for valuable advice.” Some professors and TAs liked Chen so much that they offered him internship opportunities. “Some students complain about a small school like Brandeis offers less working opportunities, but it is actually not about your school: it’s about you, you need to take the initiative,” Chen feels.

Additionally, Chen is never tired of exploring new things, and he views one’s college years as the best time to explore different fields and interests. Originally planning to major in Chemistry and Business, Chen found himself more interested in working with people than doing a scientific research, so he swapped his major from Chemistry to HSSP (which combines science and social studies). He really likes the discipline because it offers the opportunity to view science through an analytical lens.

Drawing upon the knowledge he’s gaining in his HSSP major, Chen is actively involved with the Foundation for the International Medical Relief of Children: a fundraising club for the construction of pediatric clinics in areas currently lacking a reliable source for healthcare. He believes that better health is best achieved by direct care and works to aid those that can least access it. In the spring of 2012, Chen went to the Center for Healthcare Administration in El Salvador for seven days with FIMRC to offer the community medical support. Such experience offered him the opportunity to help a relatively impoverished community and to use his education of healthcare practically. He can’t wait to go on another trip with FIMRC to help more. In the future years in Brandeis, Chen looks forward to learning more and making more connections between the American healthcare system and business.

yingnan guo

Interview with Yingnan Guo ‘15

By Shukai Zhang ‘15

Yingnan Guo ‘15 shared her story about how a nervous Chinese girl became the confident individual she is today. She decided to come to Brandeis because she loves the small classes, the responsive professors, and the hard-working environment. Although quite nervous being so far from home, Yingnan felt excited to meet new people and have new experiences here. The summer Gateway courses were intensive for her, but they motivated her to work even harder. She learned about how to write an academic paper and how to read an essay utilizing deep thoughts.  Such knowledge helped her transition smoothly from a Chinese high school to an American college.

Yingnan also appreciates the English Language tutoring program and claims that her tutor helped her a lot in learning English. “I remembered when my tutor tried to help me the first time, none of my sentences made sense to her. But after a year under her help, I improved a lot and I can now organize my paper in a more logical and succinct way.” She feels lucky because her tutor devotes much effort to make sure her language is not awkwardly expressed.

Originally planning on becoming an Economics major, Yingnan discovered that the subject was rather easy for her and that she could do well in her courses without trying too hard. She then asked herself: what about try something more challenging? She decided to take General Chemistry at Brandeis Summer School and found it fascinating. She developed further interest in Biology because she is able to explore how the world works in a way that she can never see with her eyes. Although being a science major at Brandeis is tough and demanding, she decided that it would be a more rewarding discipline for her to pursue.

On a similar vein as her academic experiences, Yingnan has also learned how to accept herself as who she is. After a year in college, she understands that nobody is perfect and everyone has something they are talented in.  She has used this mantra to explore her interests within the Brandeis community and beyond.

Fei Li

Interview with Fei Li ‘15

By Shukai Zhang ‘15

Fei Li ’15 is an international student from China planning to double major in Mathematics and Economics.  She joined the Gateway Scholars Program in summer 2011, and since it was her first time coming to the United States she had a difficult time adjusting at first. She has to learn the “American way” to interact with people and live her life, in addition to communicating predominantly in English.  Fei describes the Gateway faculty as being like a host family, welcoming and helping her to adapt to the American way of life. “Thanks to Gateway,” Fei says, “I got a chance to build up the habits I need for college life and became well prepared for it.”

At first, Fei planned to major in Business because her parents and friends encouraged her to do so.  However, after taking some Business classes, she decided to instead challenge herself by taking Economics courses.  Earlier this year, Fei was glad to be accepted as a Teaching Assistant for Introduction to Economics since she did not expect to be hired as only a sophomore (the other TAs were juniors and seniors). She says being a TA gives her further opportunities to communicate with the professor.

Fei is dedicated to making the most out of her college experience. Recently, she was the publicity chair of BAASA (Brandeis Asian American Student Association).  In the future, Fei is planning to join the Combined Columbia Program, study abroad, and continue to explore other fields such as Anthropology, History, and Computer Science.

There are diverse opportunities and resources that only Brandeis can offer.  Fei feels that college life is not all about classes and grades, but to explore yourself and grasp at chances that are more important.  She advises, “be yourself, follow your heart, and enjoy your life. Everything else will work out eventually.”

Yuxin Yang

Interview with Yuxin Yang '16

By Clara Gray '15

Yuxin Yang is a Gateway scholar from Nanjing, China, who is pursuing dual degrees through the Brandeis/Columbia collaboration. Through this dual degree program, students spend three years at Brandeis and then spend two years at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University. At the end of five years, they will receive a BA from Brandeis and a BS in Engineering from Columbia. Yuxin is currently completing her first year at Columbia. In true Brandeisian fashion, she will receive not just one BA from Brandeis, but also a BA in mathematics and a BS in physics, as well as a BS in electrical engineering from Columbia. “I started as a physics major interested in theoretical physics,” recalls Yuxin. “But I wanted to do more experiment-based work.” After taking an electrical engineering course, and beginning work in the Brandeis experimental high energy physics group, Yuxin decided to pursue electrical engineering and join the Columbia program.

It was the strong physics department that first attracted Yuxin to Brandeis. “I love the research opportunities here at Brandeis,” Yuxin said. “One professor has invited me to come back and work for him after I graduate from Columbia, but I haven’t decided whether I will accept yet.” At Brandeis, Yuxin worked primarily for Professor Bensinger, who, as part of the ATLAS experiment on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, is working on the development of the muon spectrometer. “I was working on the Muon detection alignment system while at Brandeis and throughout the summer before I went to Columbia.”

Through the dual degree program, Yuxin receives advantages from both Brandeis and Columbia. “At Brandeis, I really appreciated the small classes. The upper level physics classes had only about 10 students in them, whereas at Columbia it’s 40 to 50. I really got to know my Brandeis professors.” Yuxin also thrived in the open-minded Brandeis environment. She was involved in an impressive list of extra curricular activities: “I was majorly involved in the Queer Resource Center and Brandeis Women’s Rugby. I performed in the Vagina Monologues, was a non-senate chair for student union’s Social Justice Committee, an active member of TRISKELION, and I’m a break dancer. I practice on my own but I’m not in a crew. I was also a Gateway Mentor over the summer of 2014 and I worked in the library for two years as an assistant.” Now that she is a student at Columbia, Yuxin joined the Kappa Phi Lambda sorority, and she does research in the CLUE lab for semi conductors. She is also taking advantage of their impressive alumni network . “I’ve built really strong connections with alumni through Columbia. I got an internship at Google this summer through one of these connections. I’ll be at the Mountain View Googleplex campus in Silicon Valley, and I’ll be working on the Chromebook hardware team designing chips.”

Yuxin recalls her experience in the Gateway Scholars Program with great enthusiasm. “Gateway was an amazing experience! I wouldn’t be who I am right now if it wasn’t for the Gateway Program.” For Yuxin, Gateway was a stepping stone towards college-level coursework: “The workload was an intermediate step between the workload of high school and college. The thing I remember most is our first analytical writing class. Our writing teacher, Vino, asked us to really think about what critical reading is, and how to read critically. She used the example of Cinderella to make us realize how the story portrayed gender norms and discrimination, promoted beauty ideals, and objectified women. She challenged our long-held beliefs, and opened a new world for me. I realized that my vision before was limited, and that by reading more books with a critical eye I could get a broader perspective on the world. Even as a science student, Gateway helped me get comfortable with the Brandeis academic environment. From basic things like asking questions in class to going to professors’ office hours, I learned to take advantage of the supportive academic community at Brandeis.”

Before enrolling in Columbia, Yuxin spent the summer of 2014 working as a Gateway mentor. Recalling her transition from Gateway student to mentor, Yuxin said she was inspired to become a mentor because she was grateful for her own experiences as a student: “The reason I became a mentor is, as a Gateway student myself, I have received tremendous help from the Gateway Scholars Program faculty, especially Vino and Sabine. I know personally that this is a great program for international students, and I felt very excited and honored to be a part of it.”

At first, Yuxin was apprehensive about the mentor responsibilities, recognizing how important her role would be in creating the incoming Gateway students first impression of Brandeis University as well as American culture: “We [mentors] have the privilege, together with all the Gateway faculty, to create the first impression for the incoming students who may have never before left home for such a long journey and such a long stay in another country. First impressions usually play a crucial part of their decision of who they are in the Brandeis community and who they would like to become.” The mentor training helped Yuxin become more confident as a leader, especially the support from her fellow mentors: “I gradually felt more comfortable and confident about taking this job. We talked a lot about leadership, building positive mentor-mentee relationships, developing good communication skills, and other responsibilities in the training week. More importantly, I bonded with my amazing fellow mentors, like Yi, Mufei, Sally, Qianran, and Haotian. Knowing that they shared very similar feelings with me, I felt more confident.”

As a mentor, Yuxin’s responsibilities ranged from day-to-day advice, like directing students to the right buildings during Welcome Week, helping them mail receipts for their health insurance, taking pictures for them, and providing advice here and there about classes, professors, grades, etc., to more significant responsibilities including ensuring a safe space for them on campus. She kept their problems confidential, but reported any potential danger and discomfort they were experiencing, informed disabled students of their rights and resources on campus, and even gave a little introduction session on diversity and equality in American culture. In the end, the aspect of her mentorship experience that was originally challenging ended up being the most rewarding part: “This I guess is the best part of being a mentor – from their first impression to the end of the program you get to see, and feel mentees' struggle, and improvements. You get to be very proud of them when you hear about their achievements and success.” Yuxin is still in touch with many of her mentees, even hosting one when she visited New York City. “It's great to see them now doing so well in class, and getting As for their papers and exams. I am so proud of them.”

Yuxin advises future Gateway students to take advantage of Brandeis’s open-minded and supportive community as well. “I would advise new students to reach out and talk to more people – one of the most important things in college is to connect with other students who have shared interests and get involved in the community. Try to make friends and not to get too stressed about work. Just be yourself!”


Interview with Zixuan Xiao ‘16

By Clara Gray ‘15 

Alex Xiao is currently a senior from Beijing China, pursuing a highly concentrated Politics major, and triple complementary minors in history, economics, and legal studies. His passion for political sciences and academia has lead Alex to becoming intensively involved in two prestigious journals at Brandeis. He is the Asia Pacific Regional Editor for the Brandeis International Journal, and the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Brandeis Law Journal. The Law Journal includes submissions from faculty and students. The International Journal includes submissions from undergraduates representing all global regions, and each issue centers around a global theme such as climate change.

Alex first heard about Brandeis through his cousin, who came to Brandeis for the Masters of Finance program. When he was 16, Alex came to the USA all by himself to visit his cousin and tour the school. “I spoke limited English at the time,” he recalls, “so it was quite a trip!” He was impressed by Brandeis and his cousin’s experience at the school, so when the time came to apply to college, Brandeis was high on his list.  

Recalling his experience with the Gateway Scholars Program, Alex said “I loved the Gateway Program. I knew what I wanted to pursue in college, but I also knew my English writing and oral communication skills needed to be brought up to the level required for political science classes. It was an intensive program, and after Gateway my English was far better than it had been.” Alex’s first impressions of Gateway were that it was well organized and impressive. “I remember all the binders we were given – all the guest speakers we saw – speeches by the President and Dean of Arts and Sciences. It was a great way to get acquainted with the high standards of the university.”

As an ambitious scholar, Alex appreciates the academic training Gateway offered him. “I’m a ‘social scientist in training,’” Alex said. “We read works by great people: Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Sandel, George Orwell. Gateway gave me a preview of how it feels to study the social sciences. It was really rewarding.” Alex also recalls that Gateway gave him the advantage of time: “We had access to Brandeis’s academic resources a full two months before school began! As a community, we learned how to access and consult with the Roosevelt Fellows and Academic UDRs, and how to use the library resources and electronic article databases. It was a completely new system and a different academic environment than we are used to, and Gateway gave us time and the resources to acclimate.”

With his interest in American politics, Alex deliberately tried to put himself in the shoes of an American student. He mentally prepared himself to read and reason like an American political scholar, and the Gateway Scholars Program gave him the practical language skills to support his academic goal. As a politics student, Alex noticed that the peers in his classes are mostly American: “I am often the only Chinese student in a class such as, say - Politics of Islamic Resurgence.” As a Chinese student in an American system, Alex has a unique point of view, as he understands angles and ideas from both Eastern and Western political systems. Alex’s classmates appreciate his point of view and like to get his input on class material. “People want to learn about my experience in my country. It is a wonderful opportunity to help clarify facts and correct stereotypes.”

Alex has taken full advantage of Gateway resources. Gateway Scholars are allowed to have an academic writing tutor, and while many students opt out of having an academic tutor after their freshman or sophomore year, Alex has had a tutor every single semester. “Academic writing tutors are one of the best resources that the Gateway Scholars Program provides. The program is really good at matching you with the right person. I’ve had a series of excellent tutors. We meet every week to discuss my writing assignments.” Alex has also turned his experience as a Gateway Scholar into a networking advantage. Through the Gateway Scholars Buddy Program, which is a social program that teams up American students with Gateway Scholars to improve their social communication skills, Alex was paired with Daniel de Sola Marks, at that time an upperclassman who was a politics major, a philosophy minor, and the Undergraduate Department Representative (UDR) for Politics. Daniel had amazing connections within the department, and he enthusiastically shared them with Alex. “He taught me how to talk to people to build connections, and to be smart about it. “My Gateway buddy will probably be my lifelong mentor,” said Alex. “Everything starts from Gateway, I would say.”

For his plans after Brandeis, Alex is making the tough choice between pursuing a PhD in political science or going to law school. After consulting with one of his favorite professors – who will also be his thesis advisor next year – Alex has decided on law school. “My professor has encouraged me to apply to law school. She said a PhD would be right if I wanted to pursue teaching, but she said ‘I see in you an intelligent academic activist, and a law degree will help you make a real impact.’” In the long-term, Alex wants to return to China to be involved in the judicial system and legal system reforms.