Global Alumni Spotlight: Yangqingxiang Wu and Kaiyi Wu

March 12, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Yang Wu and Kaiyi Wu met during their time at Penn State and were married soon after they graduated. Yang received his doctorate in computational mathematics from Penn State in 2019 and Kaiyi graduated with dual majors in mathematics and statistics from the University's Schreyers Honors College in 2018. They currently live in New York City.

A married couple (man and woman) posing for the camera in the middle of a city square

Kaiyi and Yang Wu met at Penn State in 2018.

IMAGE: Niabin Chen (Photo provided by Kaiyi and Yang Wu)

Yang and Kaiyi said their story began with a casual talk in the HUB-Robeson Center while waiting in line for lunch. The two realized they both were part of Penn State's Foundations in Global Engagement (FiGE) program, a program for students who wish to enrich their University experience by developing multinational relationships.

"Five minutes later, we realized that there was a lot in common between us — affiliation in the same department, the connection in the FiGE program, and sharing the same family name," they said. "Professor Ludmil Zikatanov was Yang’s Ph.D. thesis adviser and Kaiyi’s honors thesis adviser. Later, we published a journal paper together with Professor Zikatanov and Professor Katherine Zipp on aquatic invasive species modeling."

Q: What have you been up to since graduation?

Yang: I love solving real-life problems with math and coding, especially those from the financial industry. After graduation, I started my career as a quantitative researcher at Morgan Stanley in NYC. My team builds mathematical models for equity trading desk on derivatives pricing and risk management.

Kaiyi: I am pursuing my Ph.D. in applied mathematics at Tufts University in Boston. Academic life consists of a trio of researching, teaching and studying. Yang and I married in February 2020. During the pandemic, I relocated to New York. 

Q: What factored into your decision to complete your education internationally?

Yang: The United States has world-renowned academia, and the Penn State Math Department offers a competitive graduate program. I came to the U.S. for a better opportunity.

Kaiyi: I went to a high school with a large number of alumni going abroad for undergraduate education, and I was fascinated with the liberal arts education in the U.S. So I let my four years of college life be an expedition to Penn State — one of the best decisions I have ever made!

Q: Can you name some of the most impactful experiences you had at Penn State?

Kaiyi:  The one year serving as orientation student coordinator in the Office of Global Programs is one of the most valuable experiences I had at Penn State. I worked with such a passionate team, both the students and the staff. I am still actively connected with some of the colleagues and the students. I cried every year during the last day of ISO, when orientation staff taught the young Nittany Lions to sing "Sweet Caroline" and chanted “We are, Penn State.”

Moreover, Yang and I have met quite a few friends for life at PSU. We think it’s the shared memories that tied all of us together: summer afternoons in the first-floor shaded house in Nittany Garden, Thanksgiving gathering at [our friends] Yvonne’s and Johanne’s, ice-skating at Pegula, coding night in the Davey Lab.

Q: How have your experiences as international students at Penn State shaped your lives and perspectives?

Yang and Kaiyi Wu: It’s difficult to tell whether we learnt those lessons as international students or just as young adults in their early 20s. One of the most important lessons we learnt is to stay open-minded and humble, and to respect each individual as an independent identity. We have met so many outstanding and self-motivated peers from different backgrounds, and we are lucky to be inspired by them at this stage of our life.

Q: What clubs and or extracurricular activities or programs did you participate in here at Penn State? And what’s something that’s stuck with you from those experiences?

Kaiyi: Futures FTK, the statistics club, the math club. I devoted most of my time to the orientation team in Global Programs. Penn State has offered more opportunities than one person could possibly take. It is not that difficult to find such opportunities, even as an international student; all it takes is the willingness to step out and maybe a little courage to showcase yourself. These helped me a lot in graduate school.

Q: What does it mean to you to be Penn Staters and Penn State alumni?

Yang and Kaiyi Wu: It means keeping lion’s pride, staying connected and giving back. We lost count of how much help we received at Penn State, and it’s an honor to give back.

Q: If you could impart one bit of wisdom to Penn State students, what would it be?

Yang and Kaiyi Wu: Penn State has a lot to offer, and we think it’s important to learn how to make a big campus small. For international students, it is totally natural if it takes time to feel the sense of belonging, but you will love this place deeply when you graduate.

Q: Kaiyi, what is one thing you learned in your role as an orientation leader and subsequently an orientation student coordinator?

Kaiyi: The work of orientation leader and orientation student coordinator is dynamic, fast-paced, and needs us to keep a high spirit for the new students all day. This can be challenging at times but making good plans and sticking with them always makes it easier. Getting enough sleep is the key for not only a 15-working-hour orientation day, but for a Ph.D. in mathematics as well.

Q: Yang, how did your experience with FiGE influence your experience at Penn State?

Yang: In my first year studying in the U.S., FiGE provided me with a great platform to practice my English through casual conversation. Even though my English skills didn’t necessarily improve a lot (haha), I found it easier to start a conversation with students in the class I taught and my peers in the office.  Also, it feels great to escape math sometimes, make friends with people from different backgrounds and have fun in FiGE.

Last Updated March 18, 2021