Tufts Senior Portrait: Winnie Zheng

During her time in the School of Engineering, the new graduate learned how to build new technology—and a powerful sense of community
Winnie Zheng
Winnie Zheng’s senior capstone project showed young children the power and possibilities of computer science. Photo: Anna Miller
May 23, 2019

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Next to Medford is Malden, and next to Malden is Melrose, where Winnie Zheng, E19, grew up. Somerville’s Union Square, where Zheng’s immigrant parents work in their restaurant, is just to the south.

This was Zheng’s somewhat circumscribed world when starting at Tufts four years ago. She had considered studying in downtown Boston, but her father encouraged her to choose nearby Tufts. Having traveled halfway around the world at the age of five from China to the Boston area, she was a little disappointed to be heading just a few miles from home. “When I toured Tufts with the admitted students, I left after fifteen minutes,” Zheng recalled.

But as her first year progressed, she began to explore. Taking engineering courses in computers and robotics, she found helpful professors and congenial fellow students. She settled in, becoming a computer engineering and computer science double major and working on campus in tech support. And, as a sophomore, she volunteered with a Tufts program that taught engineering principles to elementary school students.

Her senior capstone project, sponsored by a team of Tufts doctoral students, takes that work a step further, showing young children the power and possibilities of computer science. She and classmates have adapted Bluetooth technology for use with WeDo bricks, a LEGO system for building simple robots. As a result, kids can create up to ten devices that talk to each other, in a version of what’s called the Internet of Things. “Some elementary classrooms have WeDo bricks already; we’re adding a layer, a little brain,” she said.

During college, Zheng discovered hiking as a hobby, and even a bit of tourism in Boston with friends. These days, she has a different perspective on the trees and flower beds at Tufts that “felt suburban” to her as a freshman. “From the upper campus, you see a lot of greenery, and it makes me want to go walking,” she said.

But she’s also come to value her close-knit Tufts engineering community. Having seen “the same building and faces for four years,” she plans to go on seeing them for a fifth, when she returns for her master’s in the fall. Meanwhile, with her parents, she’s found that working the cash register in their restaurant every Friday evening, as she’s done since middle school, has been a way to stay in touch. “We have time to talk,” she said.

Since her parents will be working all day on May 19, it will be hard for them to get away for her graduation. “They’ll come for two hours,” Zheng said. She made sure to tell them exactly how best to spend those hours: not at commencement on Sunday morning, or at the Baccalaureate Service the day before, but at one small Sunday afternoon ceremony on the Green. That’s when she’ll be receiving her diploma with her engineering friends and classmates.