David Zhang: 'Cornell has taught me that anyone can make an impact'

David Zhang '20
Biological Sciences
Computer Science
Newton, Ma

What are the most valuable skills you gained from your Arts & Sciences education?

My Arts & Sciences education taught me how to learn. My professors would always emphasize that the goal of their classes isn’t to just teach us the material we needed to know, but rather to make us better learners and more curious students. They definitely did something right since I plan on being a student for the next eight years as I pursue an M.D.-Ph.D.

What is your main extracurricular activity and why is it important to you?

Music is my main extracurricular activity at Cornell and has been my main extracurricular interest since high school. I played violin in the Cornell Symphony Orchestra freshman year and then joined the Cornell Glee Cub my sophomore year. I have also played in multiple concerts with the Cornell Chamber Orchestra, both on and off campus, and played in multiple chamber ensembles. During my time at Cornell, I have performed in an international chamber music festival, toured the country and abroad with the Glee Club, and played in master classes for world-class professional musicians. Music at Cornell has given me best friends, incredible professors, and experiences I will remember for the rest of my life. I had the honor of playing in a memorial service for the Cornell students lost in the fire of 1967. I also got to meet and sing for Bill Nye. My involvement in music has gifted me so many invaluable experiences and provided me with an escape from all of my other academic commitments. Music has taught me to be more creative and shown me the strength in community.

David Zhang in front of flowers

How have your beliefs or perspectives changed since you first arrived at Cornell? What have you discovered about yourself?

Cornell has taught me that anyone, truly any singular individual, can make an impact. Before coming to Cornell, the world seemed impossibly huge and I was just a high school graduate. But here on campus, I am constantly reminded of the institution’s mission for public service and community engagement. Within the activities I am involved in, I have toured the country and abroad to connect with distant communities through music as well as engaged in novel computational genetics research that could lead to exciting biomedical advances. In addition, I see examples of service everywhere on campus, from project teams dedicated to tackling a global health issue to students who spend evenings tutoring at the local incarceration center. Cornell has not only opened my eyes to all of the problems that need addressing in this world but given me the skills to tackle these issues and take on a proactive role.

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first year student, what would you say?

Make friends with your professors. They are so much more than just your teachers and they have so much more to offer than just course material. They are not scary people and you should not be intimidated by them. I guarantee they want to get to know you just as much as you want to get to know them.

Every year, our faculty nominate graduating Arts & Sciences students to be featured as part of our Extraordinary Journeys series. Read more about the Class of 2020 and check back for Class of 2021 features to be announced in May.

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 David Zhang