Skilled in many arts; that’s the definition of the term seen across the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute campus, “polytechnic.” As winner of the Rensselaer Concerto Competition for her violin virtuosity, past editor-in-chief at The Polytechnic, a judicial intern in New York City, and an intern for JusticeCorps in Los Angeles, Economics and Science and Technology Studies dual major Sarah Shiang is perhaps the ultimate polytechnic.
Though her father is an alum, having graduated from Rensselaer as a mechanical engineer in 1991, Shiang hadn’t really considered Rensselaer as a place she’d like to study. It was too far away from her parents and younger brother at home in Los Angeles with winters too cold. Her viewpoint changed, though, when she toured the campus. The friendly environment of the students and faculty she met with, and the size of the college itself, appealed to Shiang. She entered Rensselaer in the fall of 2019 as a member of the 3+3 Albany Law program.
A musician from a very young age, Shiang also liked the fact that there were rich offerings at Rensselaer to give students an outlet for stress.
“Music makes me really happy,” Shiang said. “It takes my mind off of some of the problems in school, or just gives me a way to breathe and think about my creativity in a different way than the classroom.”
Shiang, like the entire campus, spent spring of her freshman year at home when the campus shut down due to the public health concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, she was part of the cohort that spent fall 2020 online at home. She says that the semester and a half at home proved difficult to balance family obligations and her educational needs, particularly because of the time difference when attending synchronous classes.
“It challenged us to think about what can we do to make things more convenient, how to connect with students around the world and to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of everyone and not just the few that are on campus,” Shiang said.
On the other hand, Shiang says there were also many positive changes during this time of online learning. She learned to love the small group collaboration of chamber music – experience that helped her to be selected as the winner of the 2022 Rensselaer Concerto Competition. In a stunning violin solo this spring, Shiang took to the stage at EMPAC to perform The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan-Williams with the Rensselaer Orchestra.
Shiang also found herself drawn to the economics classes she took in her second year at Rensselaer, so much so that she added it as a second major. She finds health and behavioral economics and drug policy to be most interesting.
Having written for the Los Angeles Times while in high school, Shiang wanted to continue to build on those skills at The Polytechnic. Reporting during her freshman year and serving as editor-in-chief in her second year, she returned to writing this year to help to build a community of inquisitive students from across campus.
“Academics is in everything,” Shiang said. “It’s definitely an important part of going to RPI and I think everyone here really knows how to work very hard, so it’s good to take a break and do fun things together too.”
For Shiang, who was awarded a Rensselaer Founders Award of Excellence making her among the top 1% of students, the academic challenges have been good. But for this polytechnic, finding friends who are scientists and engineers, economists and entrepreneurs has been among the highlights of the three years at Rensselaer, the university that asks, “Why not change the world?”
“I think that everyone has the capability to make the little changes that will make a huge positive impact,” Shang said. “Doing your part every day, challenging your coworkers and others around you to think outside the box that can help other people — that’s what RPI means to me. It has changed me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. I’m really happy that I ended up choosing RPI.”
Shiang plans to work in portfolio management this coming year as she considers her future options.