Zhang wants to use his Harris MPP to pursue a career in impact investment.
Spencer Zhang, standing in front of trees
Spencer Zhang

Spencer Zhang, MPP Class of 2021, says two key experiences have changed how he sees the world.

In his junior year of college at Sun Yat-sen University, Zhang spent two weeks living in rural China. He interviewed the local citizens about their biggest concerns and taught local school children. “I realized how big the gap is between rural and urban China. There are many extremely poor rural areas, and kids who stay in those villages have completely different resources from those who, like myself, grew up in the city,” he said.

The second experience also occurred in his junior year during a semester at the University of California, Los Angeles. He interned at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, working on minimum wage increases for immigrant workers in Los Angeles. “I compared the way China and the United States addressed social issues, and I learned how financial institutions and investors can use their wealth to make an impact in societies through impact investing. In addition,” Zhang added, “many of my colleagues at UCLA had a public policy background, and I realized that pursuing policy might be a good choice for me.”

And while these two events helped shape Zhang’s decision to pursue his Master of Public Policy (MPP) at Harris, he is quick to acknowledge that his educational pursuits may not have happened at all if it weren’t for his mother.

“Although she never graduated college, my mother impressed upon me the value of education and its ability to change the way people see the world. When you examine issues around the world, you see the intersectionality and also the unique approaches necessary to addressing those issues,” he said.

After completing his undergraduate studies, Zhang worked as a Fund Accountant at HSBC in Guangzhou, China, but his previous experiences abroad fueled his continued desire to want to incorporate public policy into his work. So, he started doing some research.

Harris stood out, he said, because of the versatility of the program and focus on data analytics. “I can combine my interests in public policy and finance, while also focusing on other areas of interest, including energy and the environment.

“And Harris has exceeded my expectations so far,” Zhang said, noting one of his favorite first-year classes, advanced microeconomics with Professor Steven Durlauf. “At first, the material was challenging, but I kept reading and asking questions. And there were many ‘aha!’ moments that were very exciting—where I began to really understand those models.”

Zhang wants to pursue a career in impact investment, in either the United States or China. He hopes to combine his Harris degree and what he’s learned from studying how policymakers from around the world address local problems to inspire others to become global citizens invested in addressing the world’s hardest issues. 

“It gives me a sense of fulfillment to make an impact in society,” Zhang said.