Alumnus reflects on the HNC's key role in helping him find his passion

Alumnus reflects on the HNC's key role in helping him find his passion

David Fishman, MAIS ’14 recounts how he found his passion for the field of energy at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and continued to work in the sector as a manager at Hong Kong based consultancy firm The Lantau Group. 

How did you become interested in China and what drew you to the HNC?

I studied Chinese during undergrad. When I went to school, I just wanted to go far away, experience diversity, and see the world. So, I decided to learn Chinese and study abroad in Beijing. I really enjoyed it. When I came back to the States and was finishing my degree, I knew I wanted to go back to China. But I didn't want to go back and do a gap year or just teach English. I wanted to study. At the time, the Hopkins-Nanjing Center was the only option I could find to go to grad school in China while also earning a US-accredited degree. So that's how I ended up being interested in China, coming to China, going to the HNC, and then working here ever since.

How has your time at the HNC influenced your life and career path?

When I started at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, I didn't have a defined career plan. I chose to study International Politics because I wasn't sure what else I might want to major in. The Energy Resources and Environment (ERE) concentration didn't exist at that time. I had registered for a class called "Asian Energy Security" and participated in the Asia career trek. We visited a company in Hong Kong, which at the time, was one of the largest commodities traders in the world. They were talking about international commodity trading, and I remember thinking how interesting it was. I had never thought about it before, but then I was very interested. 

While doing the pre-reading for the class, I became very interested in the topic and as the course progressed I came to the realization that this was something I'd want to write my thesis on and focus on as a career when I graduated. So, from that second semester of my first year onwards, I selected as many classes about energy that were offered, and also tried to make all my non-energy classes about energy too! During my second year, I ultimately wrote my thesis about energy in China. It was 100% the HNC that got me interested in this industry.

Could you introduce your work in your own words?
The Lantau Group is an economic consulting firm, which means we're helping companies or banks help investors make decisions about buying or selling electricity or other types of energy. For the generators of power and their lenders, we're helping them answer questions like “Can I get enough project returns?” and “Can I get enough profit by selling this electricity to recover my cost of investment?” On the other side are the power consumers: the big companies and industrial power users. They want to get attractive prices, have stable and secure power, and use more green power. So, we help create economic models or forecasts for them so that they make business decisions while having information on what's happening right now and what's going to happen in the future.
What was your favorite memory at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center?

Although there was no ERE concentration at that time, we did have an ERE interest club. Our instructor connected us with GIZ, a German NGO think tank. GIZ was quite active in China and was doing a project in a specific city. They assigned us the task to look at strategies to minimize carbon emissions on an industrial park level and then make it a green industrial park. Even though it wasn't an assignment for a particular class, we put a lot of time and effort into the project. That was a highlight of my time at the HNC and probably the most directly applicable thing to what I do now.

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center is now 35 years old. Since you’re working in the China region, what do you see as the value of the HNC in the next 35 years? 

I think there are more spaces for more qualified people to be in the US-China sector than ever before. Each year, in terms of US school graduates who eventually hold positions of authority and credibility in the space of US-China relations, their level of expertise in China is low.

Compare this to the same students on the Chinese side who are graduating with expertise in the US; I’m talking about students who went to international schools, earned their undergraduate and even graduate degrees in the US, and then returned to China. For example, the average Chinese graduates who have studied in the US and returned to China often have more knowledge about the relative editorial positions of CNN versus Fox News and the Wall Street Journal than the average US student of China studies do on the editorial positions of South China Morning Post versus Xinhua News and Global Times. When these Chinese graduates start working in China on US-China issues, they tend to have a solid understanding of what's going on in the United States. America is struggling to match that and it’s going to continue to struggle because the resources available in the United States to help the students get up to the same level of knowledge as their Chinese counterparts are being stripped away.

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center is one of the institutes that still provides higher-education learning. It continues to be a channel for students to not just hit the bare minimum, but graduate as the most qualified US graduates that we have to offer in the US-China relation space. 

Mr. Fishman’s publications can be found in Lantau Group’s website and SupChina.

Interview conducted by Eljoy Tanos.