How FESA Presidents supported their colleagues during the 2020 pandemic


Renee_Jerry-01Elected as co-presidents of the Financial Engineering Students Association (FESA), Renee Reynolds and Qinghui "Jerry" Yu thought the job of representing the MFE students would be very easy. After all, all of the 96 students would spend more time studying than partying they thought, since the program is quite intensive.  

Still, they took their leadership role to heart as they started to plan activities to advance the students’ interests, both in terms of academics and social life. Little did they know that the remote learning environment would make both aspects more challenging. 

Here is what they had to say about their time at Berkeley since March 19, 2020:

Jerry on the transition to remote learning:

“Given Berkeley MFE’s notoriously rigorous and fast-paced curriculum, it is hard to keep up in normal times, much less when everything is online. Both professors and students had to adjust literally the day the shelter-in-place was announced. Suddenly, all staff and students woke up to the newfound reality of Zoom instructions, scant interaction, and open book exams. Solving this challenge required joint solutions from faculty, staff, and students, which is exactly what everyone delivered with mid-term adjustments with the help of FESA’s academic reps. Both Renee and I surveyed the needs of students and professors and proposed changes to the courses ranging from the schedule, the material, and the teaching format. These changes were adopted with a lot of success, and we are proud to have made our contribution to the knowledge base for remote delivery, which could be the new, long-lasting method of instruction in light of the pandemic.”

Renee on social events:

“The social scene was also impacted in a major way, gone are the usual Friday happy hours and board game cafe nights, replaced by Zoom interactions with more kinks and fewer drinks. We learned that talking on Zoom with a large crowd is difficult since there are fewer social cues to be observed, it is hard to initialize conversations and gauge reactions. This is why we worked with social chairs to replace happy hours with naturally interactive events like online poker, virtual board games, and workout sessions. Nothing could replace a good coffee chat, so we installed donut to create interactions that would get people to know each other. Students crave outdoor activities after being confined to a small space for a long time, which is why we organized outdoor hikes with social distancing guidelines in the beautiful mountains of Berkeley. All of the events serve to increase frictionless interactions while minimizing their impact on academics and career, both of which are important for MFE students.”

Jerry on the students’ wellbeing:

“An important aspect bearing mentioning is mental and physical health. Staying mentally and physically fit with our tough curriculum during a global pandemic is already incredibly difficult. The fact that the problems are magnified by the shelter-in-place order has posed a challenging scenario for us as president/co-president. We have set up regular, calming talks with our outstanding executive director Linda Kreitzman and her colleagues who all care deeply about us students.”

Renee on receiving care packages:

“We have also worked with the program to move funding to secure care packages (with contactless delivery). These have included fruits, snacks, and masks. We are thankful to Senior Associate Director of Admissions, Diane Nguyen who set up catered food delivery to students at Berkeley, with weekly meals and extra during finals week.”

Jerry on FESA’s continued contribution to the class:  

“We believe that our actions have provided valuable support to the students in this turbulent time, and we will continue to make sure MFE students have the best support from each other and the program office.”

Read on to learn more about Renee and Jerry.

Renee graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematical and Computational Science. Her passion for statistics and data science led her to serve as the President of the Stanford Applied Statistics Society, where she spearheaded panel discussions featuring data scientists in industry, weekly workshops, and an AI-driven cybersecurity company tour. While working as a research assistant for the past two years at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Renee implemented R for several projects including performing machine learning analysis on latent factor loadings associated with a restaurant choice model, and generating visualizations and correlations between fake news reading and voter turnout in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Renee also completed four summer internships within the statistical analysis software industry, contributing marketing analysis projects, a Unix shell tool that tracks web component usage and produces cumulative statistics, as well as the first analytical report feature for a new healthcare analytics software product utilizing her self-taught SQL and SAS knowledge. In her spare time, Renee enjoys puzzles of many kinds, cooking, staying fit, and sci-fi/fantasy films/series/video games. Jerry is a passionate and detail-oriented financial engineering student looking to enter the world of quantitative investing. Before joining the MFE program, Jerry completed an honors Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Financial Economics from the University of Toronto, where he studied under some of the leading researchers of deep learning. Following his third year, Jerry worked for a year as a trading floor risk analyst intern at Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan programming risk systems in C#. After graduation, Jerry implemented microeconomics models in Python for the currency group at Bank of Canada as a research assistant. His contribution regarding demand for payment methods resulted in a working paper that fed into the bank’s official recommendation for a central bank digital currency. Jerry is an avid traveler who once lived in seven different cities for a year. In his spare time, Jerry likes playing basketball and badminton with his friends, exploring the cities around him, and trying all the iced coffee he can get his hands on.

Learn more about the Berkeley MFE and students by going to our website.


About The Author

As Assistant Dean and Executive Director of the Berkeley MFE Program, my role-among other things-is to develop and maintain contacts with firms to find opportunities for the students and place them in outstanding internships and full-time positions.