'I've been thrown into the entrepreneurship world and learned so many lessons'

Alanna Zhou

Computer Science
Saratoga, Calif.

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

I thought that I'd only be studying computer science in Arts & Sciences, but I ended up learning a lot more about other things in the world. From how to form an opinion about a Western art painting, to understanding nuances in an occupied France film, I'd say that the most valuable skill I've gained is to perceive and appreciate subtle things in the world.

woman at table with app development signs

What was your favorite class and why?

I took Japanese 1101 because I wanted to watch anime without subtitles, and it ended up being my favorite class at Cornell. I felt extremely awkward; I was learning how to introduce myself, how to ask for directions to the nearest McDonald's, and how to ask someone out on a date — all in elementary Japanese. Everyday was like theater, and I was an actress fumbling around with my lines. Suddenly, two years had passed by since I took Japanese 1101, and I hadn't realized that it was this class that propelled me into an entirely different world. By the end of it, I was no longer performing on a stage, but having a full-blown conversation in Japanese with another fellow college girl studying at Kyushu University. 

What have you accomplished as a Cornell student that you are most proud of?

five women in a group

I'm most proud of building the app, Telie, with my friends Cindy, Haiying, Olivia, Renee and Vivi — and I couldn't have asked for a better team to be with me to experience eLab, Cornell's startup accelerator program. After conducting more than 90 user interviews, discovering our customer segment and launching our app on the iOS App Store, we've been thrown into the entrepreneurship world and taken in so many lessons that go beyond the $5,000 stipend. With just our excitement to build something cool, we've been able to get more than 250 downloads all within a school semester. Because of Telie, my team and eLab, I've been able to see for myself how to start an LLC, how to build a product that users need, and simply, how to start a startup. It was also with eLab that I was able to get invited to a Cornell alumni event in the Bay Area, where I was lucky enough to chat with an insanely successful Cornell alumna about our journey and get invaluable feedback and advice on taking the next step into the future. Beyond trying to create the next big thing, I'm super grateful for my team and Cornell's emphasis on entrepreneurship for pushing me to explore things I never imagined. 

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

Do not despair if you get assigned to live in Clara Dickson your first year when everyone else gets to live in the new dorms. In fact, do not despair about anything really, it will all work out. To all the clubs and project teams that accept you and don't accept you, all the friends that come and go and all the exams that are W's and L's, they all come together at the end for a reason.

 

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 2022.

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