From Liberal Arts to Engineering: Ansen Gong SEAS'24 Shares His Columbia Graduation Journey

Applying Operations Research to Real-World Challenges: Reflections from a Columbia Engineering 2024 Graduate.

May 13, 2024

Tell us about yourself! What's your name, school, major, and where are you from?

My name is Ansen Gong. I am a 2024 graduate of Columbia Engineering. I am in the analytics track under the operations research major. I grew up in Beijing, China until I was 15 and then moved to North Carolina to attend high school.

Before coming to Columbia, I studied at Middlebury College in Vermont for three years. I will obtain bachelor’s degrees from both Columbia and Middlebury as part of the dual-degree engineering program.

If you could describe your college experience in three words, what would they be? 

Passion: At Columbia, I found the operations research curriculum best fits my interest. Simply put, operations research is the study of finding the most optimal solution to problems with varying constraints and priorities. The methods used in operations research balance pragmatism and idealism, which aligns well with my personality.

I am passionate about using analytical insights to solve problems that benefit others. For example, the elective Operations Research in Public Policy allows me to apply operations research skills to model the immigration flow. The insights from this model can be very helpful in identifying potential solutions to mitigate the immigration issues facing the U.S.

Challenging: The Columbia Engineering cohort provides an intellectually challenging yet stimulating environment. I have found my peers and professors to be extremely helpful and inspiring.

Ansen Gong (2)

Admittedly, studying with people who are much more brilliant than me is challenging but extremely rewarding. Those who play tennis may understand - you can only improve a little if you always play with people who are not as good as you.

Every single Columbia student is talented in different ways. You just need to find the edge. My strength lies in my ability to translate complex analytics into actionable insights for business purposes, a skill I have honed throughout my professional development.

Diversity: From Middlebury to Columbia, I embraced the diversity of thoughts on this campus. Inside the classroom and beyond, I have worked closely with many people who share entirely different backgrounds from me. It is fascinating to get to know them, learn their thoughts, and understand what shaped them. I will continue to be a global citizen. Indeed, multiculturalism and the diversity at Columbia paved the way for me to become a more knowledgeable global citizen. 

Columbia Engineering champions the idea of "Engineering for Humanity." There were countless moments during work times for group projects and extracurricular activities when I learned from people of different backgrounds. Our discussions ranged from qualitative topics, such as the impact of human rights politicization, to more analytical issues.

Thanks to my training at Columbia Engineering, I have developed the skills to translate diverse thoughts and ideas into rigorous analytical results.

How have the Columbia Global Centers enriched your college experience?

During my tenure as the President of the Columbia China Forum, I had the opportunity to work closely with the Columbia Global Center Beijing. This forum is a platform that encourages the Columbia community to participate in constructive and inclusive U.S.-China dialogues. 

As a group of undergraduate student organizers, we lack experience organizing this kind of event. Since 2021, the Beijing Global Center has provided us with invaluable support essential to our forum's success. 

Their guidance to our organizing committee as a whole and to each of the members has extended far beyond the scope of the forum, proving to be crucial to our future endeavors.

Tell us a little bit about your life before coming to Columbia and how you ended up here.

My journey to Columbia was a process of getting to know myself better. Back in high school, I never thought I would enjoy studying engineering or natural sciences. After my first year at Middlebury, I realized that I wanted to develop solid expertise that would allow me to contribute to the market.

Ansen Gong (5)

After learning about the dual-degree program, I decided to try out pre-engineering courses required by Columbia, including elementary physics, computer science, and other mathematics courses. 

Stepping out of my comfort zone and pursuing a path I hadn’t considered in high school was the most rewarding choice. I enjoyed those courses for the deterministic nature of natural sciences. Although I have never labeled myself a “math whiz,” this did not bar me from pursuing a world-class education at Columbia Engineering. 

Undergraduate study is when students should push themselves to explore and find meaning in life. My college experience was a journey of self-discovery through trial and error.

What's your plan after University?

I will be working full-time at BlackRock, an asset management firm. I will bring my operations research background to improve the firm's big data analytics production and delivery pipeline, a perfect place to apply my academic training.

I am thrilled to help thousands of portfolio managers worldwide through big data analytics.

What's your Chinese name and what does it mean?

宫耀宗 (Gōng Yào Zōng ) is my Chinese name. My first name, Yaozong, means to glorify (耀) my ancestors (宗).

Do you have advice for students interested in applying to Columbia?

As a dual-degree engineering student, I am grateful for the opportunities that this program brings to students. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been accepted into this program and to have had the opportunity to get to know it better. It allows liberal arts students to enrich themselves with a world-class engineering curriculum. I highly recommend this program to students who feel that a pure liberal arts education may not serve their best interests or needs.

However, I advise students considering this program to start preparing early. It is expected that students complete all liberal arts requirements as well as engineering prerequisite courses within three years, which is a somewhat lofty goal.

The question that students applying to Columbia should have a solid answer is how Columbia will serve them. 

The process of all applications is a two-way selection process, although Columbia's brand and prestige are top-notch. I chose Columbia Engineering because of its professional development, especially compared to similar dual-degree engineering programs nationwide. The location of Columbia, as well as the alumni network and career development services and opportunities included, are fundamental to the quality of professional development the school provides.

Additionally, the core of professional development is about building necessary skills. The methodology taught at Columbia is highly applicable and tailored to industry needs. Theories and frameworks of the field of study are provided in the first few semesters, followed by a wide range of electives to meet students' needs. These attributes that enhance Columbia Engineering's curriculum are particularly valuable to students like me, who have experienced education in small liberal arts colleges.