Graduate Stories: Yunzhe Nie, CC'23

May 17, 2023

Name: Yunzhe Nie
School: Columbia College '23
Major: Economics-Political Science

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

My name is Yunzhe (Matthew) Nie, and I am a graduating senior at Columbia College, majoring in Economics-Political Science. I am from Suzhou, Jiangsu, China.

Describe your life as an undergraduate student at Columbia.

Graduation photo with Butler Library in the background.

As a transfer student arriving on campus, I was overwhelmed. It was as if I had entered a whole new world with endless possibilities. I embraced this new environment with what the former College Dean James Valentini called a "beginner's mind," eager to explore Columbia's diverse range of opportunities. From the Core Curriculum to the World Leader's Forum and student groups to the President's Fun Run, I have made full use of my time in Morningside Heights to determine my interests and how I want to live my life.

Just as I was finding my footing in my first year, the pandemic struck, disrupting the rhythm of life on campus and plunging me into a world in turmoil. Still, it also created an opportunity to test out my career hypothesis. I decided to take a gap year to make full use of my time, and in the end, I gained valuable experiences and insights about my career passions as well as strengths and weaknesses. Through my many internships, including startup, consulting, think tank, and government service, I discovered how I could contribute to and find my place in society.

Graduation photo at the Scholar's Lion sculpture (credit to Jialu Cheng, PH'23)

Returning to the university as a junior, I hit the ground running. Armed with a clearer sense of purpose, I directed my energy toward the things I loved and the communities I cared about. Among many things I did that year, I founded the Columbia China Forum (CCF) to bring meaningful dialogue about U.S.-China relations and China’s development to the undergraduate campus. While I may not have achieved every single goal I set for myself, I found solace in knowing that I had secured the most important aspects—my service to the campus community and my personal growth.

Now, as I reflect on my final year at Columbia, I feel an overwhelming sense of fulfillment. The forum I founded last year has not only survived but thrived, leaving a lasting impact on the community. Moreover, I now have a clearer vision of the path I wish to pursue after college, and I am confident in my ability to make a meaningful contribution to society. My college experience, with all its ups and downs, has equipped me with the knowledge and determination needed to navigate the challenges that lie ahead. I am grateful for the open-mindedness and passion I have cultivated and the sense of fulfillment that comes from knowing I have made the most of my time at Columbia.

Looking back on my college experience at Columbia University, I can confidently say that the journey has been nothing short of transformative.

Yunzhe Nie, CC'23

How have the Columbia Global Centers enriched your college experience?

When I embarked on the endeavor of starting the Columbia China Forum, the local network provided by the Global Center in Beijing proved invaluable. With their support, I was able to establish connections and collaborate with influential individuals and organizations in the country. The Beijing Center's countless experiences in organizing large-scale conferences and programs have also helped me as I launched the forum for the first time, allowing me to build meaningful relationships and make a tangible impact within the Chinese community.

Leadership team of the 2023 Columbia China Forum

During the challenging times brought about by the pandemic, I found myself fortunate to have access to the dedicated WeWork sites in Beijing through the University Initiative for International Students launched by the Columbia Global Centers. These spaces provided a sanctuary where I could continue my work and engage in meaningful discussions with fellow students, professionals, and thought leaders. The conducive environment allowed for productive collaborations and offered a sense of normalcy in the face of unprecedented circumstances. The study spaces at the Beijing Center and WeWork served as a physical manifestation of the Global Center's dedication to supporting students and facilitating connections, even amidst the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

The Columbia Global Centers have been an indispensable part of my college experience, enriching my journey in ways I never could have imagined.

Yunzhe Nie, CC'23

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

Born and raised in the vibrant city of Suzhou, my educational journey began in local schools, immersing myself in my hometown's rich culture and traditions. As I reached the end of my second year in high school, I strongly desired to broaden my horizons and explore new academic opportunities. It was during this time that I made the life-changing decision to enroll at United World College, an international high school that offered a diverse and globally-oriented curriculum, and decided to pursue higher education in the US.

I ended up enrolling at Carnegie Mellon University for my freshman year. While I appreciated the academic rigor and the vibrant atmosphere, I realized that my aspirations and interests were leading me down a different path. Seeking a more interdisciplinary and intellectually stimulating environment, I made the bold decision to apply for transfer admission to another university. Columbia's renowned economics and political science programs and the institution's commitment to fostering a global perspective resonated deeply with my academic and personal goals. With trepidation and excitement, I submitted my transfer application to Columbia University and got in.

I organized the transfer student dinner in the fall of 2021 following the tradition established by Skylar Xu (CC'21).

What's your plan after university?

I will be attending the Harvard Kennedy School as a candidate for the Master in Public Policy, with a focus on U.S.-China relations and economic/tech policy. I intend to pursue public service in China after I graduate from Harvard.

Graduation photo at Le Penseur sculpture in front of the philosophy hall  (credit to Jialu Cheng, PH'23)

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

My Chinese name is 聂蕴哲, or Niè Yùnzhé in pinyin. “聂” (Niè) is my surname, and “蕴哲” (Yùnzhé) is my given name. In Chinese, my name has a beautiful meaning. “蕴” (Yùn) means to accumulate and hold something in store, while “哲” (zhé) means wise or someone wise and sagacious. Together, these two characters symbolize my parents’ hope that I become a humble person who is eager to gain wisdom without showing off.

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

My advice for aspiring Columbia applicants is simple yet powerful: follow your passion and give it your all. As you embark on applying to Columbia, focus on engaging in activities and pursuing interests that truly ignite your enthusiasm. Columbia University values students who are driven by their passions and have a genuine thirst for knowledge.

I finished my first half marathon in Brooklyn after training with my friends in the Columbia Road Runners Club.

During the application process, it's important to remember that you have control over your efforts and the dedication you invest in your pursuits. Rather than fixating on external factors that may be beyond your control, channel your energy into showcasing your authentic self and the unique contributions you can make to the Columbia community.

Furthermore, remember that the application process is not just about checking boxes or impressing admissions officers. It's an opportunity for self-discovery and growth. Embrace this transformative journey and use it as a platform to showcase your authentic self. Share your personal story, aspirations, and experiences that have shaped you. Be honest, genuine, and reflective in your application materials, letting your true passions shine through.

Ultimately, while the admission process may feel uncertain and daunting, focus on what you can control: your passion, your dedication, and your commitment to pursuing excellence. Trust in yourself, believe in your abilities, and let your genuine enthusiasm guide you on the path to Columbia University. Best of luck!

I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the student representatives at Columbia to meet the then Chinese Ambassador to the United States Qin Gang, who is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs in China.