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Member Spotlight: Guanghua Gao (PhD '98)

Tell us how you first got involved with the Caltech Associates and why supporting Caltech is important to you.

I was in New York City in the summer of 1998 and searching for a Wall Street job. Caltech was introducing then-President Baltimore at an Associates dinner to which I was invited. I attended and was fortunate to be seated next to alumnus Jan Dash, who was heading a big group with one of the major firms in New York City. During our conversation I was offered an interview opportunity, and I have been actively participating in the Associates ever since.

My first stop in the U.S. was Caltech and, while a student, I was a research assistant. Through the money I earned in that position, I was able to support my brother's education in China. Emotionally and physically, Caltech and Pasadena were like home, the place I was raised both professionally and culturally, outside of my native China. I feel that Caltech provided me with so many opportunities that I want to give back, and my Associates membership is a gratifying way to do so. Though I am now working in the financial industry, my heart has never left physical science, and Caltech continues to be in the forefront of scientific discovery.

What do you wish other people knew about the Caltech Associates?

The Associates helps us to briefly step outside of our daily work and bring us back to the wonder of scientific discovery. It also allows us to connect with very talented and often well-established alumni. Participating in Associates' events has provided me, and others, opportunities to either enhance our careers or bring brilliant fresh talent to our own teams. Through the Associates, I met Tracy Fu, who is a founding managing director of QVT Financial and whom I worked with for years.

What do you enjoy most about being a Caltech Associate?

Through my affiliation with the Associates, I am proud to be supporting an academic institution that matters a lot more than most of the big companies, especially in the grand scheme of advancing humanity through scientific innovation and exploration.

Outside of your involvement as an East Coast Caltech Associate, what do you do?

I am active with the Chinese culture and language school in our community, and I am also involved with the alumni association of the University of Science and Technology of Chin, which has sent many bright graduates to Caltech.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

Perhaps my humble background—I was born in a cave, literally, on Loess Plateau in China, with an environmental setting closer to Afghanistan. Also, I was a student of Professor Fang Lizhi, whose teaching of physics and liberal ideas inspired many young students; because of him, I was able to attend Stephen Hawking's seminar in 1985, which allowed me to brag with fellow Techers when Stephen was visiting Caltech.

Do you have a favorite Caltech story or moment?

My favorite moment was in Dr. Goddard's chemistry class, when he tried to use his four limbs to demonstrate carbon bonds!

Closing sentiments?

I read the quarterly journal [Engineering & Science magazine] from start to end to learn the latest news and research from Caltech, and I get excited about Caltech's high ranking by a London organization [Times Higher Education ranked Caltech the #1 university in the world in 2011, 2012, and 2013]. If I got to choose my university experience again, I would go to Caltech every time!

Guanghua Gao

Name: Guanghua Gao
Member Since:
Membership Level: President's Circle Member
Chapter: East Coast
Job Title: Senior Quant Trader