Tommy Wang’s (NYU Silver, CAS ’24) nontraditional choice of majors—social work and international relations—started to come together during his first year in college, which he spent at NYU Shanghai through the GoLocal program NYU developed for students barred from international travel due to COVID restrictions. Tommy, whose Chinese name is Zihao, was born and raised in Shanghai, where his parents live and work as intellectual property lawyers.

Tommy Wang on purple background

Tommy Wang (Photo by Jon King)

Taking classes in his home city got him thinking. “Traditionally in my culture, discussion of mental health issues, mental health disease, was frowned on, “Tommy explains. “But nowadays China has been accepting, more tolerating, of these new ideas, and psychological health is a growing area.”

At the same time, Tommy notes, “China’s influence in the world is also growing on the world scene, so attention to the health of individuals and their countries’ relations with the rest of the world are becoming more and more essential. That is where I see myself becoming helpful and fitting in in the future.”

When travel began to open up again, Tommy moved to New York to continue his studies with hopes to work in and across China and the US to help smooth international and interpersonal relations. Now a junior, he sees the two career aspirations as related—“the macro and the micro” versions of the same goal, as he puts it. Tommy eventually made the Silver School of Social Work his “home school” while also pursuing courses in international relations in the College of Arts and Science. Both disciplines allow him to explore both Eastern and Western cultural perspectives and political attitudes, including where they overlap and why.

Valuing both practice and theory, Tommy has worked through NYU Silver as classroom tutor at Brooklyn International High School and through the online platform Publicolor, helping students from diverse backgrounds and many different countries in adapting to their new learning environment. The placements introduced him to immigrants from South America, the Middle East, and Russia, and he enjoyed leading discussions on the role that cultural diversity can play in bringing young people together.

This semester he was invited by Silver School Dean Michael Lindsey and his faculty advisor Cora De Leon to join the University Leadership Honors Course for those in the top 5% of their school academically (with at least a 3.8 GPA) who demonstrate leadership potential.

Already, Tommy is fascinated by some perspectives on leadership shared with the class of some 20 students by guest speakers such as NYU senior administrator Diane Yu. “Actually, management is a only a component of leadership.,” Tommy reflects. “It’s not only making things work or the clock to tick, but, also, whenever you see an opportunity, it’s about the courage to be the first forward, to help others start the momentum of social, or even international, change.”

Tommy, 21, has been playing soccer for 14 years, and being part of a team has offered him lessons in leadership, too. “Your power as an individual is lifted when you can tap into the power of the collective, be part of a team, and push for the most important changes,” he says.