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April 28, 2020

Zhang Reflects on CMU, Build Week’s Peaceful Chaos and Giving Back

By Elaine Zhu, junior professional writing and history major

Ivan Zhang takes global citizenship seriously. The senior physics major at Carnegie Mellon who calls Pittsburgh home was born in China and spent the majority of his teenage years in Indonesia and Uganda.

“I chose CMU because I knew I would not be limited to one specific major,” Zhang said.

Attracted to CMU’s diverse course offerings, Zhang was encouraged to cross over to other intellectual fields beyond physics. His favorite IDeATe class — nicknamed the “rollercoaster” class — educated students on the basics of event management, enabling them to engage their audience with an immersive, interactive experience in parks and museums. 

Beyond academics, Zhang is an active leader on campus. This year, he was chair of Greek Sing and responsible for organizing the event in collaboration with the Office of Student Leadership, Involvement and Civic Engagement (SLICE). Although the show didn’t make it to a live stage, Zhang was grateful that it was a learning experience for him.

As a member of CMU’s Delta Tau Delta (Delt) chapter, Zhang takes pride in being involved in Greek events and community service. Before CMU, he said he never would have envisioned that giving back to the community would play such a huge role in his life. In 2019, Greek Sing earned $113,000 and donated the funds to 412 Food Rescue, a volunteer-based nonprofit organization that works to combat food insecurity.

“It’s inspiring to hit a six-digit number on your donation box,” he said. “I would not say that Delt has made me into who I want to be, but it definitely changed me into someone admirable from my freshman self.”

After graduating from CMU in May, Zhang will work as a teaching resident at New York University.

“I considered doing pure physics research, but I can’t settle with the fact that I would be very far away from people and community,” he said.

Zhang’s most memorable moment at CMU was Build Week during Spring Carnival in 2018. He was sitting on the second floor of Delt’s unfinished booth at 1 a.m., listening to the drilling sound of circular saws and observing the hustling helmets on Midway.

“I sat there listening to machines turning on and off, and it started to snow. Everything felt so peaceful at that moment, despite the total chaos,” he said.

In his leisure time, Zhang is a huge fan of all sorts of cultural and sporting events around the city. Now, he has resorted to playing Animal Crossing on Nintendo, joining Netflix watch parties, listening to audio books in online libraries and going on daily walks to Fuku Tea.

“I miss walking down the hallway, knocking on someone’s door, and asking them if they want to hang out,” Zhang reflected. “And I will miss the CMU community when I graduate. You can basically put every physics professor on my favorite faculty list.”

Author Elaine Zhu is a junior professional writing and history major from Shanghai, China.