Li Wang ’15 honors Professor Peter Frazier and Wang’s high school teacher, Huiping Xie.
“The Merrill award is the most meaningful and important award I have won,” said recent ORIE graduate Li Wang, “and I feel very grateful and fortunate to be selected as a Merrill Scholar.” The late Philip Merrill ’55 created the Merrill Scholar program, which is being continued with the support of his family. Thirty-five new Merrill Scholars from across the campus were recognized at a ceremony just prior to this year’s Commencement.
A hallmark of the Merrill program is the opportunity for the Scholars - who are at the top rank of Cornell graduates in “scholastic accomplishment, intellectual drive, energetic leadership abilities and a propensity to contribute to the betterment of society” - to designate influential teachers in their lives, at both the college and high school level.
Wang designated ORIE’s Professor Peter Frazier and his high school teacher Huiping Xie, who travelled to the event from Hangzhou, China, near Shanghai, where she taught Wang English at the Hangzhou Foreign Language School. All of Wang’s studies there were in English. According to Wang, Xie “had a wonderful time at Cornell, and felt very honored and special as the only international teacher” to attend the event.
Wang, who graduated summa cum laude, “had an extremely positive experience in two research projects with ORIE faculty members, Associate Professor Frazier and Assistant Professor Andreea Minca,” he said. With Professor Minca and Weilong Guo, Wang recently submitted a paper on “The Topology of Overlapping Portfolio Networks,” which analyzes recently available data on hedge fund holdings to determine the potential for contagion during a financial crisis that induces selling. (Guo, then a Masters candidate in Statistical Science at Cornell, is now an ORIE Ph.D. student)
With Professor Frazier and ORIE Ph.D. student Jialei Wang, Li Wang participated in a research project on a strikingly different topic, predicting the stability of small interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules in genetics. These molecules interfere with the expression of certain genes, and their efficacy in doing this as part of therapy for brain cancers is being tested at the Mirkin Lab in the Department of Chemistry at Northwester n University. The stability of a siRNA molecule is crucial to the improvement that it brings. Because experimentation with the enormous number of available siRNA molecules is costly and time-consuming, it is impossible to conduct experiments for each one, so Frazier and Wang built a mathematical model that iteratively uses data from a series of experiments to predict stability, make recommendations about which siRNA molecule to test next, and use the resulting feedback to improve the model. They have drafted a working paper targeted for publication in the bioinformatics literature.
“Professor Frazier has influenced me in all aspects of learning, teaching and researching,” said Wang. “So I wish to continue my academic journey in Operations Research and use OR to change the life of many others, just like Peter is doing.” For his part, Frazier says “I have been continually impressed by Li’s dedication and intelligence, and his willingness to try new and difficult things. It’s been fantastic to work with him."
Wang has just begun Ph.D. studies in the Operations Research Center at MIT, where two of his Cornell classmates, brothers Divya and Somy Singhvi are also new Ph.D. students. Wang already has teaching experience, as a Teaching Assistant in ORIE’s Industrial Data and Systems Analysis course and as a course consultant in computer science courses that use the MATLAB system. At MIT, his new research focus will be on network revenue management problems. He recalls the “caring environment” in ORIE, and the experience of students helping each other in office hours rather than vying with each other in homework and exams. He credits his advisor, Professor Gennady Samorodnitsky, as well as Professors Minca and Frazier, with support and encouragement. “Being an active part of ORIE always made me a proud and grateful Cornell ORIE major,” he said.
Wang is Frazier’s first Merrill Scholar, so the recent event was the first one Frazier has attended. “The Merrill event is great,” he said. “The students do a wonderful job in the short speeches they give. Many of them are funny or touching, and it’s a great display of the diversity of interests and talents we have at Cornell.”