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From chemical reactions to financial actions

By Li Xinran | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-17 06:23
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Cai Weiyuan posing for a photo at the Bund in Shanghai in December 2020. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"Being a leader does not give you the power to command your members. Rather, it empowers you to foster their growth and to grow with them," said Cai Weiyuan, a young but seasoned leader.

At 23, Cai is a senior who is pursuing a double major in financial mathematics and economics at Ohio State University, the United States.

He discovered his gift for organizing student groups during high school in Fuzhou, East China's Fujian province, where he started a chemical club. Upon his appointment as the president of the student organization association, he played a key role in establishing an additional 38 clubs.

In an interview with Panopath, a social media account dedicated to creating an online community and information platform for Chinese students abroad, Cai said, "Compared with acquiring knowledge from textbooks, the planning and implementation of projects stimulate me better. It seems that discovering and motivating others are my innate skills."

After completing three years of high school in the US, Cai continued his education at OSU, a university with a substantial Chinese student community.

Reflecting on his journey, Cai said, "Inevitably, I have run into many bumps and taken detours in the past. I hope that I could point others in the right direction in the future."

Leveraging his leadership experience from high school and co-founding a successful social media account, Booky Island, Cai received invitations from numerous student organizations at OSU. Eventually, he chose to lead Ingress Chinese Stock Investment (ICSI).

ICSI, a financial club established in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic, aims to provide comprehensive support for Chinese students aspiring to major in finance or economics and foster a strong sense of belonging in the US.

Thanks to Cai's strategic planning, ICSI quickly became one of the largest student organizations on campus, with 200 out of 700 Chinese students annually applying at one point. Notably, Cai transformed ICSI from an online student organization into a thriving community.

"The sense of gaining and belonging is crucial to a member's adherence. They need to be willing to contribute to the club on their own will," Cai said, which was why he introduced the "Peer Mentor" program, guiding members through orientation, course selection, and career development.

According to Cai, students hoping to work in the finance and business industry need to start early, and each step is interconnected.

"If you want to get a job right after graduation, freshman year requires you to equip yourself with at least basic knowledge and skills such as financial reporting and valuation. Then, in sophomore year, you would be able to get into programs for underclassmen," he said. "And in junior year, you need to apply for a summer internship. After all that, you may be able to secure a return offer in senior year."

To aid members in their career paths, Cai designed extensive training courses and plans that would require the members years to complete.

"Many members have come back to me saying what I have taught came in handy during their interviews or internships. They have also become more and more active in the club and willing to help with club affairs," Cai said. "During their time as members, their contribution is somewhat like 'tuition'. It's a very healthy and benign cycle."

Cai's commitment to the club is evident as he manages his dual majors, plans financial courses during weekdays, and teaches them to members on weekends. For him, 24 hours a day are not enough. And his biggest motivation is his sense of responsibility.

"I once read in a book that you should treat everything you do as your career," he said. "Running a student club has always been a huge part of my life, as important as academics. It's like I'm the boss of a startup company. If something goes wrong, I will be held accountable. I ought to put in more work because I have big shoes to fill."

Personal gain is another motivator for Cai, who views his time at ICSI as an opportunity for personal experimentation and development. "With ICSI, I've been trying out theories and methods of my own, in terms of strategic planning and team management," he said. "The lessons and time spent at ICSI would benefit me for life."

Having now "retired" from the leadership team of ICSI, Cai envisions a future where the club continues to be a helpful home for every Chinese student aspiring to a career in business and finance.

In response to criticisms that Chinese student clubs are insular, Cai strongly disagrees and emphasizes their collaboration with US and international students. "There are cases where, for example, Chinese students tend to select the same courses, but it is only because we share a similar educational background," he said. "I embrace and endorse my own background."

As an "expert" in extracurricular activities and clubs, Cai advises students to consider their ultimate goals when choosing a club.

"I would suggest that they evaluate the gain, value, and long-term effects a club can offer based on their individual needs and mindset."

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