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Bessie Zhang, '23

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This story is part of the Why Econ? series. Our affiliated students and faculty share why econ matters to them, their work, and our world.

Why Econ: Bessie Zhang, ‘23

Bessie Zhang’s eyes light up when she talks about currency swaps and financial instruments. But it’s not money that excites her. It’s what’s behind it all that intrigues her.

Ever since the Stanford sophomore read “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” in high school, she has been captivated by the notion of the trust and value people put into a piece of paper with George Washington’s face on it. The book, which explores how the imagination makes humans more powerful over other animals, anchored her passion for economics.

“Econ signifies to me why we, as a group of animals, are much more powerful. It’s because of this imagination and these complicated webs we’re able to create,” she says. “Then what fascinated me more was how in this web we created — of credits, of trust, of exchange — we still don’t completely understand it. We try to predict it, but no matter how close we get to the predictions, this thing always morphs into something else.”

In high school, Zhang couldn’t get enough of econ, so she ventured to the nearby University of Chicago to take macroeconomics on top of the AP microeconomics course offered at her school. And she co-founded the school’s first economics investment team to compete at policy debate tournaments across the U.S. and help expose peers to the fact that economics is about behavior and decision-making as much as it is about dollars and markets.

By the time she was 18, Zhang had an array of economic-related notches on her belt. Economic policy debate champion. Research intern at a futures exchange company. Youth diplomat — leading economic-focused workshops as an ambassador of Chicagoland for the U.S. Department of State. And a modeler in international and local mathematical modeling contests.

During her first year at Stanford, Zhang’s economic horizons broadened. Her Thinking Matters class was on cancer, and she wrote her paper on the health care system and cancer treatments. This past summer before starting her second year at Stanford, she worked both as a finance research assistant at the Stanford Graduate School of Business as well as an intern at a hedge fund.

“I like to incorporate econ in my life,” she says. “It’s so broad I can apply it to everything.”

Zhang feels lucky she knew at an early age how studying economics would be a foundation for her endeavors. Now — as she gets guidance from her public policy and applied math professors — it’s a matter of deciding a path to pursue.

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