Huandong Chang

Kailee Shermak, Staff Writer

Liv Hage

A mathematics and computer science double major with a statistics concentration, Huandong Chang `23 has led a life at Grinnell full of athletic activities with friends, academic exploration in a wide array of subjects and exposure to new countries and languages.

Chang, originally from China, found Grinnell College through the U.S. News and World Report college rankings. Upon visiting various universities and colleges to which he was admitted, he said he realized Grinnell was the best place for him.

“I didn’t feel super pressured here, and I liked the atmosphere a lot. I talked to many students and faculty, and everyone was really nice. I believed this was a place that could give me success, and I believe it has,” Chang said about his decision to leave his home country and attend the College.

At the beginning of his first year, Chang participated in the International Pre-Orientation Program (IPOP) meant for international students to help get their bearings in a new country and campus. He said that the program introduced him to many of his friends and helped ease his anxieties surrounding the logistics of life in America like the English language barrier and how to set up a credit card.

After his first year, Chang maintained his involvement with IPOP by becoming a mentor, and he has been involved with acclimating new international students to campus. 

“I felt that the mentees had the same concerns I had coming in. I always took time to think about what they’re missing and how I can help them have the same, or an even better experience than I had,” he said.

Along with continued participation in IPOP, Chang was the president of the Chinese Student Association (CSA) before the pandemic. He explained his role in planning programming for students and fostering a sense of community while balancing the stress of a leadership position.

“The goal was to do a lot of events and create a fun experience. I didn’t want it to become a burden for me or anyone else, but for it to become a good memory together,” he said.

Chang has also been involved in athletic and recreational programs at Grinnell. One of the more influential activities was a canoe trip he participated in through the Grinnell Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP) over fall break of his second year. The group trained in a lake near campus leading up to the experience, and then it traveled to Arkansas for a 5-day, 20-mile canoe trip.

Ohana Sarvotham

“Yeah, we didn’t have fresh water. We used a water filter to get all of our water. It was just a very cool experience,” he said, also noting the lack of internet access which provided a refreshing break.

In addition to the GORP canoe trip, Chang enjoys athletic activities at the Charles Benson Bear `39 Recreation and Athletic Center. He said that he either swims, plays soccer or tennis or participates in some other athletic activity every day. Specifically, the International Soccer Club has been an influential part of his time here.

“I get super excited about it and forget all the homework and pressure,” he said.

Chang explored much within the academic realm. He said he came into college leaning towards physics and biology, but he quickly found the math and programming within computer science fascinating.

“Every math course I’ve taken is a good experience. There’s nearly no exceptions, which is unbelievable. They’ve all been so impressive to me,” Chang said.

During the spring of his third year, Chang went abroad to Budapest, Hungary to continue his studies in computer science. He said he thoroughly enjoyed his coursework and the applied nature of the curriculum, but the most memorable part of his abroad experience was learning bits and pieces of the Hungarian language. 

A specific interaction at a Hungarian street market stuck out to him as a moment he was proud of. While trying to buy strawberries, a vendor tried to overcharge him. With his basic knowledge of Hungarian, he was able to communicate with the vendor and successfully negotiate the strawberries back down to the normal price.

“I think it only saved me several dollars, but it’s not about the money. It was just about the principle, and it’s a very impressive moment,” he said.

Chang’s timeline at Grinnell was slightly unconventional. After completing his first two years, he decided to take a gap year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It [the gap year] was to prevent myself from the risk of wasting my year doing online classes just to get things done to get the credits. That’s not my goal,” he said, adding that his decision came from his desire to truly engage with the academic content.

It [the gap year] was to prevent myself from the risk of wasting my year doing online classes just to get things done to get the credits. That’s not my goal

— Huandong Chang

During his gap year, Chang explored data science internships with Integrated Computer Solutions, a computer software company where he focused on consulting, and TikTok, where he focused on algorithm development.

“Reflecting back, it was the perfect decision because otherwise, I wouldn’t have found my interest in data science,” he said.

A statistics concentration fits perfectly into his pre-existing passion for math and computer science. Specifically, graph theory — MAT-218 — with Christopher French, professor of mathematics and statistics, paired with his network science summer research with Nicole Eikmeier, professor of computer science, on which he published an academic paper, combined his academic passions well.

The next stop on his academic journey is a data science master’s program at Harvard this coming fall where he will focus on machine learning.