Stephanie Yu ’22 graduates in May with a job lined up as a product manager with Disney Streaming, the entertainment giant’s collection of services that includes Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, and STAR+.
Yet Yu’s path to a career she is excited about has been anything but straight. She tried on multiple majors at Pomona College and changed her career focus several times. Premed, prelaw, she considered it all.
“I think I’ve gained a lot of courage to try different paths through my education here, because it has been so easy to go from one track to another,” Yu says. “You don’t get that freedom necessarily at other colleges or universities that aren’t liberal arts colleges. I’m really thankful to Pomona for that. It has given me the courage and experience to be able to explore.”
As she completes her studies with a majors in computer science and public policy analysis with a concentration in chemistry, Yu looks back at her journey with more of a sense of appreciation than the unnecessary angst she felt at the time.
Uncertainty Not Uncommon
A standout student from Palo Alto, California, Yu grew up surrounded by the high-achieving Silicon Valley culture. She was used to striving to be the best, whether it was in class or on the golf course, where she excelled enough to play for the Pomona-Pitzer women’s golf team for two years.
To put it simply, if something was difficult or in demand, Yu gave it a shot.
“I applied to college as an economics major because that was one of the most popular majors at Pomona,” she remembers. “Then during the Orientation Adventure, a lot of people around me as well as in my dorm said they were premed. I thought it must be popular for a reason, so I decided to change my course load toward that. It was towards the end of first semester my sophomore year that I realized maybe it was not for me.”
Next, with a good dose of chemistry under her belt, Yu veered toward a possible legal career.
“I had discovered that I have a very analytical mind and I wanted to apply that,” she says. “I took an international relations class. I thought about prelaw, and I actually did a couple of internships, one with a law firm and one with the Department of Homeland Security. I really do enjoy writing. I love reasoning. I love constructing arguments and looking at things from an analytical lens. But it still felt like it was missing something.
“So at that point, I was like, OK, where do I go from here? Maybe try computer science. It was first semester, sophomore year that I took my first-ever computer science class.”
She found she enjoyed it, particularly her class in discrete math and functional programming. But when she pursued internships in software engineering during her junior year, she realized her heart wasn’t in that, either.
“At that point, I felt very lost,” she says.
Finding Her Way
In hard times, Yu says she has always turned the same direction, toward her faith.
“I think it’s common at any high-achieving place for people to feel imposter syndrome, when everyone comes from being the best within their high school. So I think failure or setbacks in college are a very novel experience for a lot of people. But I think in college I’ve been able to rediscover my identity and the source of my hope. I’ve been able to center myself on my faith, and that has been absolutely life-changing.”
She became co-editor-in-chief of hearhere, a journal of Christian thought at The Claremont Colleges that publishes a print magazine in addition to online. She also was part of the group that started an organization called first, love, a Christian fellowship at the 5Cs—Pomona, Scripps, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd and Pitzer—that draws up to 70 people to various gatherings each week.
“Exploring different academic disciplines and tracks certainly helped me perform a vocational process of elimination, but it was leading hearhere—where I mobilize my teams towards a unified vision, where I empower and inspire my peers, and where I step into our audience's shoes to understand how hearhere can best serve them—that I discovered a passion for product management,” Yu says.
It became clear to her that her skills in leadership, analytical ability, organization and communication were in demand in the marketplace, especially combined with her knowledge of computer science. At a panel hosted by the Computer Science Department, she learned about the relatively new field of product management in technology.
“Product management does have some elements of project management,” Yu says, recognizing people sometimes confuse the two fields. “But product management is really about ‘owning’ a product or feature. For example, for Facebook, you would have a product manager for the reactions feature. The cool thing about it is that it meshes all of the different interests that I have. I essentially get to act as a jack of all trades and glue together all of these different teams, driving and coordinating the engineering team, the design team, marketing and sales, data analytics, even the legal team—anyone who is a stakeholder in this product—towards a unified goal of serving the customer.”
Yu’s first assignment will be in Santa Monica, focusing on Disney Streaming’s recommendation engines to enhance customers’ experiences finding shows they want to watch.
She knows her first specialty, like her first major, probably won’t be her last. But Yu has learned to keep moving forward without total certainty.
“Ultimately, I believe it is possible for everyone to do what they love, what they are good at—what I would call God-given gifts—and what they find meaningful,” she says, echoing a post she published on Medium. “I think there is a lot of pressure in any high-achieving environment to aspire to what other people are doing. But I’ve realized that while cultural prestige, income, and numerous other factors can vary, no job is superior or inferior to another. I found the courage to go after my passion, because I believe in a God who has provided and will continue to provide for me. And I pray that each student would find the courage to pursue their calling, no matter where it takes them in life.”