With the right tools and variable approaches to teaching, can learning be as enjoyable as playing a game? Junya Zhang Vic 2T1 likes to think so. Adopting a playful approach to some of life’s challenges may equip people to cope better with the inevitable stresses of daily life. “I am particularly interested in technologies that improve people’s learning experiences. I believe learning is one of the most enjoyable activities in life, but it can also be stressful. My goal is to make learning more fun so that life is more easily managed.”
For Zhang, the potential for technology to improve upon people’s daily lives is what motivated her to switch from the physical & mathematical sciences program to computer science. “Computer science is very practical, in that it contains the power to change people’s lives with very low latency. Discoveries and research in mathematics and physics almost always take decades to start impacting people’s daily lives, but programs such as Uber and DoorDash impact daily life almost immediately—for better or worse—after they are launched. I find this very fascinating, and thus decided to switch programs.”
Zhang appreciated the flexibility of the undergraduate program. “It was helpful that as a first-year student, I had room to explore what I was really interested in before declaring a major.” She also got great advice from Yvette Ali, Victoria College registrar, and from Professor Alfonso Gracia-Saz: “I feel so fortunate that I was able to take his math course in my first year and that I could work as his TA for two years. It is not only the math knowledge that shaped me, but also his attitude towards education as a career. He made a meaningful impact on both my College experience as well as my future career path.”
Although Zhang did not live on campus, she spent a lot of time at Vic. As a first-year student, she attended commuter orientation, which gave her the opportunity to meet fellow classmates as well as students from different programs.
“I believe that life has multiple dimensions, and academics is just one of them. The Wooden Bucket Theory suggests that a bucket’s capacity is determined by its shortest stave. As an introvert, getting involved in student life was not easy for me, but I knew this was the best time for me to step out of my comfort zone and explore my limits.”
Zhang also started volunteering at Caffiend’s, Vic’s student-run, volunteer-operated café, joined the student union and worked as a TA. “Throughout my undergraduate years, I tried to participate in as many extra-curricular events as possible. The skills and experience that I gained through those events are impossible to be gained through classes alone.”
Zhang maintains that the more she challenged herself at school and with extra-curriculars, the more her confidence grew. Each summer, she applied to Google and she landed three internships as a result. One notable experience was in Seattle. Upon graduation, Zhang will be re-joining the company as a full-time software engineer. To celebrate her academic achievements at Vic—Zhang has the highest overall A standing amongst her graduating class—she will receive the Chancellor Northrop Frye Gold Medal at convocation.
“I am so grateful for my experience at Vic for teaching me the value of hard work, dedication and how to make learning fun.”