Student Profile: Sarah Yang's Many Passions Have Service in Common

When Sarah Yang visited Columbia as a prospective student, she thought she might like to study engineering. Others had told her she would excel in the field, but like many recent high school graduates, Yang was passionate about so many subjects that choosing a major seemed overwhelming. But after attending a presentation by the Columbia student chapter of Engineers without Borders (EWB), Yang knew her decision was made.

“I saw them present, and in that moment I’d never wanted to be an engineer more in my life,” she said. “I’d never wanted to come to Columbia more. I just fell head over heels for SEAS at that moment.”

Now a sophomore Chemical Engineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Yang serves as the Grants Writing Chair for the Columbia student chapter of Engineers without Borders’ Morocco project. She is also the Funding Chair for the Executive Board of Columbia EWB, where she has the opportunity to oversee funds for all three projects: Morocco, Uganda and Ghana.

“It’s kind of funny how it came full-circle,” she said of her involvement with the group that convinced her to come to Columbia. “But working with EWB is great because it embraces both the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sides of engineering; there’s ‘How to build a bridge,’ and there’s ‘Why are we doing it?’”

Yang’s involvement on campus doesn’t stop there. She was elected to the Engineering Student Council as a first year student, and now serves as the Student Services Representative, an at-large position that represents all four classes. Working primarily with the Housing and Dining administrations, Yang has built lasting relationships with employees as she navigates Columbia behind the scenes.

“It’s very rewarding to look inside Columbia and see what makes it move,” she said. “So many nuanced decisions are made in the effort to make this a good community for students to live in, and I find that so inspiring.”

Yang is also inspired by the Capital Investment Fund, a project for which she co-chairs. A sum of about $20,000 compiled by all four classes, the fund exists for student groups who need to make purchases larger than the Student Government’s yearly allowance. Groups can apply to the Capital Investment Fund, where Yang is a board member, for a chance to secure financial leverage.

Even before coming to Columbia, Yang habitually used her time to help others. In the summer between high school and college, she volunteered to teach English to children in Taiwan through the Overseas Community Affairs Council (OCAC) program. A Taiwanese-American, Yang said she’d previously only been to the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, where she visited with family. But through the OCAC program, she and a partner were stationed on the small island of Matsu, teaching children from kindergarten to eight years old.

“Many Taiwanese people have never been to Matsu,” Yang said. “The island has a population of around 500 people; smaller than the graduating class at my high school. It’s a very tight knit community, but I’ve never been so welcomed in an area in my life.”

Through the pre-orientation program Columbia Urban Experience (CUE), Yang continued to learn through volunteerism. CUE immerses incoming first year students in New York City communities to perform a variety of services, and Yang enjoyed the experience so much that she is now one of the CUE leaders.

“It’s an opportunity for students to go to parts of NYC where they wouldn’t normally go,” she said. “We see the effects of gentrification and learn about how education fits into the mix with these communities, in the spirit of trying to think about these things as Columbia students. And we can do something about it.”

Yang said the experience helped her to bridge her high school life with life at Columbia, in addition to her participation in the Columbia Bach Society: a tribute performance group on campus that plays music from the Baroque and Classical eras.

Music has been a part of Yang’s life since she was five, when she began taking violin lessons. It was such a present and pervasive part of her identity in high school that it felt strange to come to college and cease playing, she said. Yang remembers asking herself, “How is music going to fit into my life?” Then, she found the Bach Society.

“I owe so much to these people because I never realized how big of a part music played in my life – how much strength and perspective I got from it – until I stopped playing,” she said. “I would say that some of my best friends come from this group.”

Yang’s passion knows no bounds, so it’s not surprising that she’s developed new interests since arriving at Columbia. Courses such as Sociology of Medicine and Virology are among her favorites, and the subject of protein engineering intrigues her. Yang is also in the process of choosing a minor – maybe Sociology, maybe Biomedical Engineering, or perhaps a combination of the two—but she is reluctant to look much farther into the future right now. 

“There’s just so much out there,” she said. “I’m really lucky to have so many options and to be interested in so many things. I could never give you a solid answer right now about what I’m going to do beyond Columbia.”

by Jamie Nash

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Available Date(s): 
Wednesday, March 11, 2015 to Wednesday, April 15, 2015