So Long, Farewell: A Chat with Recent Graduate Zheng Mao ’20

Zheng Mao ’20 is a Freeman Asian Scholar from Chengdu, China. He triple-majored in Mathematics, Economics, and Environmental Studies, and upon graduation, he joined Citigroup Global Markets in New York as a Sales and Trading analyst. He plans to join the commodity trading and research desk and further explore his interests in energy studies. During his time at Wesleyan, Zheng utilized the open curriculum to explore his academic interests and took advantage of various campus resources such as study abroad, faculty mentorship and the alumni network to forge his own unique college experience, which has prepared him to embrace future opportunities with a broad and inclusive global view.

First, congratulations on your graduation, Zheng! You graduated with triple majors in Math, Economics, and Environmental Studies. How did you decide your majors and what are your takeaways from studying in three different majors?

I have always been intrigued by the concept of sustainability and renewable energies. I came to Wesleyan as an intended physics major, dreaming of becoming an engineer in renewable energy. At the time, I was drawn to the cool concepts and technologies in green energies such as Tesla cars, the Gigafactory etc. However, after visiting several professors many times, and talking to them about my academic interests and potential career paths, including Professor Brian Stewart, my pre-major advisor, Professor Gary Yohe, expert in environmental economics, and Professor Barry Chernoff, head of the College of the Environment, I found myself increasingly interested in the economics, finance and international relations aspects of energy and environmental studies. I decided to major in economics and environmental studies, to fully explore the interdisciplinary and complex issues in environmental and energy studies through multiple perspectives: geopolitics, macroeconomics, public policy, environmental science etc. I also majored in mathematics because not only does it give me rigorous training in deductive reasoning, it also helps me build a solid foundation in quantitative skills. I truly appreciate the flexibility and freedom I have at Wesleyan in designing and building my own coursework, in consultation with the amazing faculty members in many different disciplines, who continue to give me unwavering support no matter what path I decide to take.

Can you share with us the most unforgettable class you took at Wesleyan?  Or was there a faculty member who made a strong impact?

In my first college semester, I took Contemporary World Architecture with Professor Joseph Siry, who used a case-study method to introduce world architecture and urban design from the 1990s onward. We covered landmark works, from the neo-liberal Bank of America Headquarters in New York City, to the iconic post-Soviet Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid in Azerbaijan; from ecologically aware, affordable housing projects in India, to the utopian zero-carbon Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. I benefited greatly, since the study of these works offers great insights into the entire life cycle of these architectural spectacles: background, local community, design concepts, engineering feats and project financing.

As an avid traveler, Zheng visited several architectural landmarks that were analyzed in his World Architecture class, including Masdar City in Abu Dhabi.

Compared to standard lectures, these case studies offered lessons that are contextual and concrete, and our class discussions took an interdisciplinary approach that transcended architecture. I was stimulated to think about how traditional cultural elements are instilled organically in the design of the Xintiandi Complex in China, how earthquake and typhoon resistance technology are applied in the Kansai International Airport in Japan, how private-public partnerships emerged as a new financing tool in American urbanization, and how Santiago Calatrava’s aesthetics and symbolism influenced the wing shape of the Milwaukee Museum of Art.

This class taught me to take a multi-disciplinary approach when I examine investments and financial issues, to consider the economic, political and cultural implications of each project. Finally, as an avid traveler, this class motivated me to visit many of these architectural wonders, such as zero-waste Masdar City in Abu Dhabi and the post-modern Pompidou Museum in Paris.

As we know, you chose to study abroad in Stockholm for one semester. What was the experience like?

I have always identified myself as a global citizen. I’m thankful that Wesleyan gave me opportunities to have a truly global academic experience. I studied at the Stockholm School of Economics with the Swedish Program in my junior spring. Even though this is an exchange program designed for mostly American students, I tried to maximize my cultural immersion by taking the challenge to enroll in a direct-enrollment course at SSE, Institutional and Economic Development. It turned out to be one of the best experiences I had during study abroad. This course was taught in a scheme that combined American-style lectures and Oxford-style tutorials. I was able to gain so many different perspectives in the tutorials and discussions on the role institutions and legal systems play in economic development.

Birthday celebration with friends in Sweden during study abroad program.

One of the most rewarding things about the study abroad experience was that I got to think about problems and issues that I am familiar with, like climate change, democratization, healthcare and education reforms, from a Swedish and European perspective, rather than the American-centric or Sino-centric narratives I am used to. I have been pushed to ponder how a big government and welfare state can be achieved and thrive without harming democracy and human rights, learning from the Swedish model. Moreover, I got to travel all around Europe, made many great friends from Sweden and learned the basics of the Swedish language, which is so interesting that I continued to teach myself until now.

What’s your future plan after graduation? How will you decide on your future career? How are you preparing for it?

 I plan to join Citigroup as a sales and trading analyst. Even though my desk assignment is not finalized yet, I plan to join the commodity research and trading desk to further explore my interests in the energy industry. I have taken full advantage of the great resources from the Gordon Career Center and Wesleyan’s amazing alumni network. To explore my potential career paths, I attended almost every info session at the Career Center no matter what industry it was and networked with many Wesleyan alums to hear about their experiences. I enjoy networking not so much for finding a job, but rather learning about their stories and career advice is fun and inspiring enough.

Zheng gave a Lunch and Learn session on Chinese businesses in the Middle East during his internship at Brunswick Group’s Shanghai office, a Cardinal Internship experience.

I also try to visit and network with Wesleyan alums even when I travel around the world. One most memorable experience was when I visited Dubai two years ago, I tried to reach out to Mr. Bora Bariman ‘94, head of marine and energy trading at the National Bank of Fujairah at the time for a quick coffee, but to my surprise Mr. Bariman invited me to his office and talked to me for two straight hours, sharing his experiences from Wesleyan to working in the oil industry in the Middle East and encouraging me to further explore my interest in energy studies.

When I decided that I would like to explore the oil and gas and global financial markets in my career, I sought a lot of help from Wesleyan alums working in the industry, and secured an offer at Citi with so much help from a family of Wesleyan people in the firm.

What do you think of liberal arts education after four years at Wesleyan?

A liberal arts education, which values independent thinking and interdisciplinary inquiry, is what I value the most from my four years of academic experience at Wesleyan. In my exploration of environmental studies and the energy industry, I am encouraged to learn and think from multiple perspectives, through an environmental moral lens, through an economic lens, through a geopolitical lens and through a historical lens, and most importantly, be able to organically combine these lenses, perspectives and frameworks together and have them work in tandem. These are the lessons that enable me to further explore my academic, career and intellectual interests for the rest of my life. I truly appreciate every Wesleyan professor, student and alum who has inspired me!