Skip to main content

Emma Zhang is headed to a job with a private investment firm in Boston after graduation. With majors in biology and computer science and a minor in French, she has championed an interdisciplinary Tar Heel experience.

Emma Zhang peeks through a pair of headphones, wearing her graduation cap, at the Carolina Gaming Arena.
Senior Emma Zhang has worked with Carolina Housing’s ResNET program for four years. ResNET manages the Carolina Gaming Arena in Craige Residence Hall. (photo by Donn Young)

From working in IT support for Carolina Housing to practicing her French in Paris to conducting undergraduate research in a biology lab to helping with a Nepali 3D imaging project — Emma Zhang has wholeheartedly embraced a love of science and humanities during her four years at UNC-Chapel Hill.

After the Davidson, North Carolina, native graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, she knew she wanted to attend a college that would provide her with a broad-based liberal arts education.

Even before she set foot on UNC’s campus, Zhang was recruited to be a research computing consultant with Carolina Housing’s ResNET program. RCCs provide on-site IT support in UNC’s residential communities. She has been involved with ResNET all four years and became a manager last year; she currently leads a team of eight students based in Carmichael Residence Hall. In addition, ResNET manages the Carolina Gaming Arena in Craige Residence Hall. The venue features 33-high-end PC stations and over 10 gaming consoles.

Zhang has served on the IT Help Desk team at Kenan-Flagler Business School since her sophomore year, and she has been an undergraduate computer science teaching assistant for three semesters.

Initially, Zhang saw herself pursuing only a biology major, but a computer science class early in her college career with Professor of the Practice Kris Jordan lit a spark. She decided computer science paired nicely as a second major.

Emma Zhang dances a jig with Ramses Jr. under a tent at the Carolina Inn.
Emma Zhang and Ramses Jr. dance a jig as the Carolina Bluegrass Band plays at the College’s Campaign for Carolina celebration. (photo by Steve Exum)

“I joined Associate Professor of Biology Todd Vision’s quantitative/computational biology lab my sophomore year,” said Zhang, who received a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, or SURF, to support her work in that lab. “I had previously conducted research in cellular biology but was excited to explore something different, to more holistically understand the field of biology while learning about the intersection between biology and computation. Dr. Vision has been an incredible mentor — helping me to grow as a researcher and a student.”  Vision’s lab studies the evolution of plant genomes and develops new ways for computers to help make sense of biological information.

Zhang loves fueling the humanities part of her brain, too, and enjoyed taking the class “Art & Science: Merging Printmaking and Biology,” taught by James L. Peacock III Distinguished Professor of Biology Bob Goldstein and Kappa Kappa Gamma Distinguished Professor of Art Beth Grabowski. At a recent College of Arts and Sciences Campaign for Carolina celebration, Zhang and fellow students screen-printed science-inspired bookmarks for celebration attendees.

She also served as the client lead on a student computer science team that helped Associate Professor of Religious Studies Lauren Leve with 3D imaging of Nepali sacred sites.

“Carolina gives you these amazing opportunities to do interdisciplinary work, and the work that I’ve found most meaningful and valuable and that helps guide the choices that I make on a daily basis has been in these types of classes,” Zhang said.

She got hooked on pursuing the French minor after classes with teachers like Associate Professor Jessica Tanner in the department of Romance studies. Zhang has taken three classes with Tanner, including “Social Networks: Technology and Community in Modern France.”

Emma Zhang stands in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Emma in Paris.

“We talked about how technology can at times bring us together while simultaneously be a source of alienation,” Zhang said. “We read texts discussing industrialization, urbanization and post-apocalyptic thinking. It really helped us think critically about concepts taught in STEM classes and be able to see them from a different perspective — through structures of thinking that are common in the humanities.

“In addition, Professor Tanner has been an invaluable friend and mentor. She’s guided me in exploring post-undergrad paths, including potentially graduate school. She’s consistently a strong advocate for students and is always exploring ways to best support us.”

Zhang spent time last winter break in Paris practicing her French and hopes — maybe — to return there this summer. Post-Commencement plans include a visit to see grandparents and international friends in Taiwan and China, a trip to Edinburgh and London (with a possible side trip to France) and then on to Colorado (where she hopes to rent an RV).

She starts a new job in mid-July as an analyst on the tech opportunities fund with Bain Capital in Boston. Saying au revoir to Chapel Hill won’t be easy. She’ll miss studying in Coker Arboretum, reading in Davis Library and hanging out at some of her favorite lunch spots — Merritt’s Grill, Yaya Tea, Mediterranean Deli.

When Zhang thinks back on her academic journey, the word “community” immediately comes to mind.

“From the first semester here, I’ve had so much support and kindness, and so many people gave of their time and energy and resources to help me succeed — from faculty to staff to students. There’s a strong sense of collaboration at UNC, and I’ll miss that a lot.

“It’s like a family.”

By Kim Spurr, College of Arts and Sciences






Comments are closed.