Yue Chen, BS 20, MFE 23, is the first-ever Chinese national to play on a NCAA Division 1 Women’s basketball team. At 6’6” and the daughter of professional basketball players, Chen played center for the women’s team at Cal for five years before returning to China to play professionally for 18 months.
Now, the pioneering athlete is back at Berkeley with sights on becoming a Triple Bear. Chen is studying in the Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) program, among a record 32% women in the Class of 2023, along with a diverse group of students from 17 different countries. This fall, Chen will intern as an associate at
After Chen finishes the MFE degree, she plans to begin the full-time MBA program in 2025, accepted under Accelerated Access, which allows students to apply as seniors and defer for several years. We talked to Chen recently about her basketball career and why she chose to do three degrees at Haas.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?
Yue Chen: I was born in Beijing and spent my first 18 years there. Both my parents met in college. They used to be professional basketball players in China so I was born into a basketball family. I started playing basketball when I was a little kid and it was a big part of my life. During high school, I was facing the decision of either going to play pro or going to college. It was always a dream for me to come to the States and to play ball and also pursue academics simultaneously.
When was the first time that you visited the U.S. ?
I was fortunate to attend a Junior NBA camp when I was 12. Three teams played each other from Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. The winning team got the opportunity to come to the States and watch the All Star Games. I played for Beijing, the winning team, and we came to the States to watch the All Star Games in Dallas. That was my first time in the US. Kobe Bryant was there and people were truly enjoying basketball with others and celebrating. That was really a culture shock, and I was like, “Oh, I want to stand on this course one day, and also play here.” So that’s always been a dream, a goal, from then on.
How did that experience lead you to Cal?
In high school, I needed to choose a college. I looked at places like Berkeley, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and did official visits as an athlete. Of these three schools, Berkeley was my first choice. While the others are definitely great universities, I felt like the culture, the people here are just awesome. The coaches and players were warm and welcoming. I said, “Oh, I’m coming here.” I still keep in touch with a lot of the staff and coaches.
You were among the first group of students to apply for the Accelerated Access Program at Haas in 2020. Then you decided to do an MFE degree before the MBA. What led to that decision?
Berkeley has one of the top MFE programs in the world. As an undergrad, I was a double major in statistics and business administration and those subjects have been a passion for me. I’ve loved math since middle school and I’m really good at it. The MFE is a really interesting intersection of mathematics, statistics, and finance. So that’s how I came to the program. It’s a perfect combination of my interests.
How are you finding the MFE program so far?
The class material is really hard. The professors are great and you are surrounded by talented, smart students. So it’s just awesome to be with them, to learn with them, and to learn from them. Every day I’m improving at something and that feels really great. This semester, I am taking a class on Fixed Income with Professor Richard Stanton, who has won Haas’ Cheit Outstanding Teaching award three times. He is enthusiastic and engaging, sharing not only his knowledge about knowledge but his experience in the financial industry.
A great mentor for me at Haas is Stephen Etter, a finance lecturer for 10 years. He respects the potential of all students from diverse backgrounds.I met him when I was 17 when I first visited Cal and he’s been a great support both on and off the court—with my professional career, my Haas application, and career development.
Why did you choose to combine the MFE with the MBA degree?
It’s really hard for undergrad students to say what they want to do in the future. We’re really young. So the deferred MBA program gives us time to try out different things, and to gain different experiences to be sure about what I really want to do for the future. This gives an option to come back to Haas and make more connections and improve my skills and see how business is run from a leader’s perspective.
What kind of career are you thinking about?
After just finishing my basketball career, I’m trying different things right now and the MFE is preparing me to enter the finance career path. I’m looking forward to gaining more experience in the finance world and eventually, maybe, doing some business involving sports. Someone I really look up to is Joe Tsai, co-founder of Alibaba, who owns the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Liberty basketball teams. He was a student athlete at Yale and played lacrosse, and he’s a really successful businessman. So he’s someone I really look up to when I envision my future.
Do you still play basketball?
Although I’m not playing sports anymore I am still close to Cal Athletics. I hope I can help out and offer support to young student athletes. I want to use what I’ve learned on my journey, and what I’ve gained here at Berkeley, to help young people who are facing challenges—so that they will be able to celebrate their journey at Cal long after they graduate.