Yuxin Yang

By Clara Gray '15

Yuxin YangYuxin 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!”