Bernie Wang (C, E '21) has a significantly more calm and humble demeanor when compared to any Penn student, so much so that his humility can hide how accomplished he is.
Bernie is about to graduate from Penn’s VIPER program with a dual degree from the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Arts and Sciences in material science and chemistry, and next year, he’ll be at Yale getting his Ph.D. in chemistry. He’s been involved in a number of extracurriculars, including the Social Planning and Events Committee (SPEC) and Penn Band. But his personal fun fact of choice? He collects coins.
In comparison to Bernie’s many accomplishments, collecting coins might seem like the least exciting one, but throughout the interview, I begin to sense a theme. Each of Bernie’s passions is deeply rooted within him, beginning in the earlier years of his life and growing stronger as he gets older. He tells me that he got into coin collecting back in elementary school during book fairs, where he found an album of state quarters. “I was always hoarding the quarters anyway, because I liked the designs and stuff,” he says. Similarly, Bernie plays trombone for Penn Band and participates in Penn’s Tae Kwon Do Club, both of which are hobbies he picked up in fifth grade.
I then ask him why he was interested in applying to Penn’s VIPER program. He tells me that he did his seventh grade science fair project on biofuels. “That got me started on being interested in renewable energy. And that just built from there. Then I learned chemistry in high school, and then that's how I figured out I liked chemistry.”
Smiling, he tells me all of this in the simplest of terms, with both nonchalance and humility.
I ask Bernie what it’s like being in a dual degree program, and he describes his passion for both science and engineering: “Lots of times you talk about these world problems, and there has to be collaboration between engineering and science to make new stuff and then get it into the real world. So, it's interesting being able to see and understand both sides. And you could act kind of like a translator. Some terminology isn’t known on both sides, so you can translate between them,” he says.
Bernie is an excellent translator indeed. Other than VIPER, his main draw to Penn was the "diversity in nerdiness," as he puts it. At other schools he visited, which were more STEM oriented, “everyone was the same kind of nerd. Whereas at Penn, everyone was also ... nerdy, but they were nerdy in different ways. Like there’s the music nerd, the science nerd, the humanities nerd, social science nerd, or however you want to use the word nerd, but it was more diverse here and I thought it was more fun.” He, a self–proclaimed STEM and music nerd, explains everything to me, a humanities nerd, in terms I can easily understand and appreciate.
At this point, I’m starting to see another theme: the people who have made his Penn experience. Bernie speaks the most about the people he’s encountered along the way. He begins with Penn Band, which he was introduced to during Quaker Days and New Student Orientation. He says, “I was thinking, ‘I’m going to join them. I wish I could join them already. When do I get started?’” Well, that was the start, and he’s stayed ever since because he loves the people.
Bernie served as equipment manager for the band as well. When I ask him what the job entails, he's pretty straightforward about distributing and signing out the instruments, but what stood out to me was that he mentioned how “being able to be one of the first people to greet [first years] every year was fun.”
Bernie also reflects nostalgically on hosting other bands and taking road trips to other schools: “One time, I had a bunch of Harvard band people sleeping in my living room. Another time, I had people from the Brown band sleeping in my living room. So that's a little fun exchange—exploring the campuses and hanging out over there with them. And it’s fun seeing people again and again on the road trips, so you’re like, ‘Oh, you, you slept in my living room last time.’”
But don’t let his camaraderie with other students fool you; Bernie is all Penn, through and through. He’s said yes to opportunities just for the sake of Penn spirit, like when he became SPEC’s treasurer, saying, “I'll admit, initially I didn't think of becoming treasurer because of VIPER; I wasn't sure if I had the time to, but at the election, they nominated me, and ... I thought, ‘I guess that'd be fun. And I guess I could make time for it.’ So I accepted the nomination and I'm glad I did it."
His SPEC friends have lovingly joked that in addition to being their treasurer, he was also their mascot. He’s been involved in five committees, “and apparently that's not normal,” he says, chuckling.
One of the last memories he shares is making toast with Penn Band for football season. A tradition here at Penn is to throw toast on the field at the end of the third quarter in a game. “The band has toast making, where we make a bunch of toast, and we like to put little designs in it. So we use our fingers—we use any object around to imprint. So that's always fun—hanging out with people, making weird toast designs.” The designs include smiley faces, hearts, numbers, and "PB" for Penn Band.
I can feel Bernie’s Penn pride radiating through the screen, as well as how hard he's worked to leave Penn better than he found it, whether it's through Penn Band, SPEC, Tae Kwon Do Club, or smiling on Locust. First stop Penn, next stop Yale, and then the world.