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Life at UC Berkeley: Dublin High School’s Lily Hu Turns Passion for Math into Data Science + Economics

July 24, 2018

BERKELEY, CA—Dublin High Class of 2017 graduate Xuenan Lily Hu is a rising sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, double majoring in Data Science and Economics.

“A lot of people think that Data Science is a combination of computer science and statistics,” Lily says. “While it does encompass these two studies, Data Science is a discipline of its own. It combines skills outside of these two spheres, making it applicable in diverse fields.”

“At Berkeley, we can take data intensive courses in subjects ranging from social welfare to business analytics,” she adds. “Students go on to become machine learning engineers, artificial intelligence engineers, business analysts, and much more.”

This past week, I caught up with Lily to learn more about her experiences at UC Berkeley so far, as well as reflect on some of her internship experiences, favorite classes, and memorable moments as a Dublin High Gael.

a good pal

Neha Harpanhalli: Data Science will be introduced as a new major at UC Berkeley this fall. How did you become interested in this field of study?

Lily Hu: “I was lucky enough to take the introductory Data Science course, Data 8, in my freshman year at Berkeley. Taught by John DeNero—a highly respected computer science professor at Berkeley—along with David Wagner and Ani Adhikari, Data 8 introduced me to techniques in analyzing and interpreting real world data. This course, as well as joining the Statistics Undergraduate Student Association (SUSA), were some decisive factors that led me to major in Data Science.”

Neha Harpanhalli: Being a new major, Data Science classes are in high demand, along with the high enrollment for all other courses at UC Berkeley. Have you felt the effects of this overcrowding? How do you ensure that you are on track to fulfill all requirements for your major?

Lily Hu: “I think most college students can relate to how stressful enrolling for classes is. At Berkeley, our class enrollment falls into three phases: the first phase is signing up for at most 13 units (which is around three courses), the second phase allows you to enroll in up to 21 units, and the final phase allows students to adjust their discussion and lab times. Students are randomly assigned enrollment times for their Phase I and Phase II.

“Personally, I treat enrolling in classes like I’m preparing for the race of my life. Two hours before my assigned enrollment time, I’ll be in the library refreshing all my classes, hoping that my preferred discussion times and classes aren’t filled up yet. In worst case scenarios, I have to resort to my second, third, or fourth choice of classes. There were times that I was unable to enroll in classes for my major, even though those classes had upwards of 200 seats.

“There’s no way to ensure that you will get all your classes. You just need to plan out your schedule ahead of time and hope for the best. However, I’ve learned to trust that other students who are enrolled in specific courses that I want to take don’t always decide to stay in the class, opening up spots later on for others on the waitlist.”

ms_lawson

Neha Harpanhalli: You are currently a Marketing Intern at Cookly and a Finance Bylaws Intern for the Associated Students of the University of California. Can you elaborate on these internships?

Lily Hu: “I recently joined Cookly, a service through which tourists and travelers can book cooking classes and culinary experiences all around the world. As a Marketing Intern, I aid in content creation, using Adobe Illustrator to design creative marketing campaigns on social media channels. Besides designing, I gain hands on experience in Data Science, using Google Analytics to build a strong database and create reports on marketing data for analyzing growth on a regular basis.

“In my freshman year at Berkeley, I was fortunate enough to be accepted as a finance bylaws intern in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, an appointed official for the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC). I aided in the revision of the ABSA (Annual Budgeting and Spaces Application) form, and advised the Chief Financial Officer in regards to budget allocations for campus organizations. My work also included passing bylaws such as the No Budget, No Pay Act, encouraging budget transparency in student organizations.”

Neha Harpanhalli: During your time at Dublin High, you had the opportunity to intern for Dublin Mayor David Haubert and Assemblywoman Catharine Baker through your involvement in the Chinese American Political Association CEF program. Can you describe these experiences, and what you learned from them

Lily Hu: “As a student intern for Mayor Haubert, I created the Dublin Mayor’s Council with a group of talented students who aspired to enhance the Dublin community. We planned events such as “Alumni Day,” where Dublin High alumni were invited to come back and tour the campus, as well as address students on their current industries. Additionally, I was able to job shadow multiple departments within the City of Dublin, which taught me more about the city that I grew up in.

“Working in Assemblywoman Catharine Baker’s office was one of the highlights of the summer before senior year. Besides doing office work such as compiling data, answering phone calls, and drafting constituent letters, I accompanied her to multiple community events. I marched alongside her in the Orinda 4th of July Parade, attended a change of command ceremony in Camp Parks, and at the end of my internship, went to the State Capitol to see the Senate and Assembly in action. Though I’m not studying Political Science or going into politics, my work with her continues to remind me that no matter what I do, I should present myself in the best way possible, and always do things with a socially conscious mind.”

Neha Harpanhalli: As a student intern for Mayor Haubert during your junior year at DHS, you were instrumental in creating the City of Dublin’s Mayor’s Council. How did the idea for the council come about? What were some of your favorite projects to work on?

Lily Hu: “I thought it was important for students to have a direct relationship with the mayor to generate greater civic participation from them. The council allowed youth to directly plan and participate in city events. [My classmates] Leesa Ko, Akshit Annadi, Ishan Saha, and Sarah Grier joined me and started to pitch their own ideas, so the Council began to have a more focused direction. After screening and interviewing applicants, we eventually expanded the council to around 30 members.

“One of my favorite events was our service project where we helped organize and decorate the Tri-Valley Haven thrift shop in preparation for the holiday season. We assembled and decorated around ten Christmas trees with an array of ornaments. While cleaning the shelves, cabinets, and silverware, the Mayor brought us cookies and hot chocolate. We bonded with each other, and I got to know a lot of the members more personally.

Neha Harpanhalli: Looking back, were there any Dublin High classes and teachers that had a profound impact on you?

Lily Hu: “In my senior year, I took one of the most challenging courses of my life – AP Physics, with Mrs. Katina Lewis. She was an intimidating teacher who I was deathly afraid of disappointing. No class pushed me as much as hers did. As intimidating as she was, Mrs. Lewis deeply cared about the success of all her students. Her blunt words were the wake up calls that we needed, and we could clearly see her passion for the subject and her students. There were times when I wanted to drop the course, but ultimately it was the most rewarding course that I’ve taken and I will never regret all the work that I put into it.

“Another class that left a profound impact on me in high school was AP English Language & Composition with Mr. Sheldon Dance. He taught me to keep things simple and succinct, to forget about the fluff. From our discourses on race relations to government structures, Mr. Dance reminded us to speak up for what we believe in, even though our opinions may place us in the minority.

“Another teacher I’m thankful for is Ms. Tina Lawson. I had her for two years in a row. I remember she always said “good heavens!” whenever our class got too rowdy. After taking both AP Calculus AB and BC, I realized how much I enjoyed math, leading me to pursue a more STEM focused field.

“Finally, one of my favorite classes was AP Statistics with Ms. Anna Kim. She’s part of the reason why I’m majoring in Data Science. Our labs cemented my understanding of the subject material, and were fun and engaging. At the end of the year, Ms. Kim even made a rap for our class. She became someone I could trust and cherished as a friend.”

Neha Harpanhalli: What are some of your most memorable experiences at Dublin High School?

Lily Hu: “The song ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ somehow became our senior anthem. [The Class of 2017’s senior year homecoming theme was the Wizard of Oz.] One of my fondest memories comes from senior grad night. When the first few chords of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” flowed through the speakers, we huddled together on the dance floor, swaying to the beat of the music. Everyone seemed lost in their own memories. The final song that played was “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz and the lyric “We’re just one big family” rang through the speakers. As we sang along to the music, I saw the smiling faces of classmates who I’ve known since elementary school, and all the friends I’ve made throughout high school. These were the people who made my high school life so special.

“Something else I’ll always remember during my time at Dublin High is going off campus to Los Pericos for lunch. Shoutout to Jianna So for introducing me to one of the best places Dublin has to offer, and part of the reason why I’m still in the Bay Area. I ate lunch there almost every single day. The cashier knew my order and had the cooks prepare it as soon as I walked into the restaurant. Everyone whom I’ve eaten with at Los Pericos holds a very special place in my heart.”

Neha Harpanhalli: You have recently taken up film photography as a hobby, and are a photographer for the UC Berkeley student newspaper, The Daily Californian. What sparked your interest in photography?

Lily Hu: “For the past two years, I’ve been travelling and photographing weekend trips to abandoned buildings, tunnels, and bunkers in the Bay Area. This hobby has taken me to the long forgotten ruins of missile sites, rusty grain silos overlooking the San Francisco Bay, and defunct water treatment plants. I find a strange peace standing in a rusting building, among rooms overtaken by vines and weeds. There’s actually a word for this drive to explore – psychogeography, ‘the practice of exploring the urban environment while being led by curiosity and a paused sense of time and place.’

“Photography is a great vehicle to satisfy my desire to travel and experience new things, while also allowing me to fulfill my creative side. At each location, I’ve established powerful bonds with strangers in search of the same places, and deepened friendships with friends I’ve brought with me. What began as simply a creative outlet has transformed into a medium for me to connect with individuals and bring those around me closer together.”

Neha Harpanhalli: Finally, what are your main takeaways from your first year at UC Berkeley?

Lily Hu: “Trusting that things will work out in the end. In college, it’s easy to get caught up in studying, social life, and extracurriculars. I’ve had my fair share of stress-filled nights, days of frantically cramming in material, and worrying about my grades. I often felt inadequate as it seemed like everyone else knew what they were doing. However, I’ve learned that eventually, everything you’ve worried about will become insignificant.

“For those of you lucky enough to be going to college, remember that it is a privilege. I often forget how lucky I was to be growing up in such a supportive community in Dublin with great friends and family. I didn’t see how privileged I was until I saw students who couldn’t afford laptops, students who were homeless, and students who could only afford to attend Berkeley on scholarships. Though I spent parts of my freshman year feeling inadequate, I’m now learning to cherish all the ups and downs, reminding myself how lucky I am to call myself a UC Berkeley student. #gobears!”

During her senior year at Dublin High School, Lily Hu was named a National Merit Semifinalist and a California Scholarship Federation Life Member, received the Presidential Gold and Gael Scholar awards, and was recognized as a member of the National Honor Society.

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