Meet our graduates | Aron Nunez, BS '21
July 6, 2021. Interviewed by Linda Esquivel. Edited for length and clarity.
As part of MS&E's 2021 graduates podcast series, we chatted with Aron Nunez, a graduating senior with a focus in finance and decision in MS&E.
Aron shares stories about his childhood, and how growing up on an orchard and helping his father count trees led to his fascination with math and engineering. He wanted to solve problems around efficiency and optimization and found math allowed him to do so. Aron also shares stories about how he made the most of his time at Stanford, what led him to MS&E and his plans for the future.
My name is Aron. I am an undergraduate studying Management Science and Engineering, with a focus in Finance and Decision.
Can you tell me a bit about your background? Where did you grow up?
I'm originally from a super small rural town in Northern California called Orland. Just to give you perspective, the entire town is roughly the size of Stanford's campus, but the total population would be equivalent to our undergrad population. It's super rural, but growing up in a rural space was really exciting for me. My parents are proud farmers, so I was able to distill and learn a lot about hard work, and I brought some really awesome lessons with me to Stanford.
How did you become interested in engineering? Were there a few experiences growing up that you could draw upon?
Growing up, engineering always seemed like this scary thing that was pretty inaccessible for me. But now that I'm at the later stages of my undergraduate career, it's interesting to see where I already knew engineering and was applying it early on. I distinctly remember as I was growing up on an orchard and helping my dad account for trees, thinking about how we could optimize efficiency when it came to pruning them or tending to them. It was always a huge math equation that involved optimization. I was always excited to make processes faster and more efficient, and I really found this throughout my engineering career at Stanford.
Are there other experiences in your earlier school years that sparked your interest as well?
I always enjoyed math. And I remember in my math classes, while the teacher was teaching the subject, I always skipped a few pages ahead—I had to see what was next. So those kinds of things really helped me solidify the fact that I really love the idea of solving problems like that— always wanting to know what was next, what the next problem would look like. Overall I think the curriculum at my high school wasn't the most advanced, so it was kind of hard to find problems that would allow me to do that.
Can you tell us a bit about your area of concentration? And why did you decide on it?
My concentration is finance and decision. I think one of the big things was in high school, I taught myself economics because I was interested in it. So I taught myself economics and knew that in some way or form, I wanted to study it in college. When I came to Stanford, I looked into the economics program, but I really found myself drawn to this idea of analyzing financial systems and also bringing in more engineering applications to them.
I found MS&E, and it had the perfect combination of thinking about these things and bringing in strategy as well, so it was the perfect concentration for my undergrad. And at this point, I’ve navigated different finance internships and have also focused in tech sectors that really bring these ideas to life. To me, that has been a valuable aspect of my concentration.
In high school, how did you go about teaching yourself economics?
In our school, we had very limited offerings. I couldn't take economics my senior year, so I joined an academic decathlon team, and our coaches asked us which subjects we wanted to learn. Even though I thought I could be pretty good at some other subjects, I knew I wanted to do economics because there were these big packets that came from that program. And I just took those big binders home and would read them to learn about economics and then apply it to both the competition and also just about learning more about economics in general.
How has the pandemic affected your last year at Stanford?
For a lot, especially seniors, the pandemic has kind of uprooted our senior year experience. I was really looking forward to spending my last year on the row, and thinking about my Stanford career—I had the all-Frosh dorm experience, I got to be an RA my junior year—I was really excited to tell my friends I'm going to retire on the row my senior year and just be on campus with my friends. Obviously, that wasn't what happened and the pandemic has taken a lot from us. So those challenges really arose, but I do think that the pandemic came at a time when I was starting to look and focus on the industries that I'm very excited about.
One of those industries is health, and I'm also really excited about accessible education, with virtual learning through Zoom and also thinking about how digital health and telemedicine is changing because of the pandemic. It really allowed me to dive into those sectors.
This past year I've worked at two different internships. One focused on the ed tech industry and the other focused on digital health. I've really been able to kind of solidify some of the things that I'm looking forward to post-graduation because of the pandemic. So if we do look at the silver linings here, it really did allow me to focus a bit more on what I'm looking for. And now, I am on campus enjoying my senior spring to the best of its ability now.
During the pandemic, how did you connect with other students?
I feel super fortunate, because some of my friends who were really excited about our senior year decided to find places where we could quarantine and live together. That was a good way to stay connected and stay motivated with other Stanford seniors. And even though that created those small communities, just jumping on Zoom or FaceTime really allowed me to connect to other people who I wasn't around.
What are your career plans for after Stanford and how did you decide upon them?
In the near term, I'm just super excited to come back for my coterm. So next year I will be pursuing an MS in Management Science and Engineering. And as I mentioned, with the pandemic, it allowed me to focus on two industries I'm really excited about.
For my MS&E concentration in the master's program, I'll be studying Health Systems Modeling. Overall, I'm really excited about having the opportunity to have taken some of these courses in healthcare. I've learned so much about tech regulation, medical devices and AI in healthcare, so I've really been able to grow on these types of passions.
This summer I'm going to be interning in a mergers and acquisitions team in health and tech in San Francisco, and I'll hopefully be able to solidify career plans there. I think post-grad, I want to focus on tech and health tech.
What most excites you about your future?
I think the best thing that really excites me is the opportunity to learn and work collaboratively with others. I grew up in a town where a lot of people don't go to college, let alone get the opportunity of going to Stanford.
I get to take this Stanford education and apply it to the things that I'm passionate about. I think one of the things that I really love about Stanford is working collaboratively with others, so I'm really excited to bring these types of skills to wherever I go next and be able to work on those things that I'm passionate about. One of my big dreams long-term is investing in founders and technologies that come from similar backgrounds as mine. I'm really excited to dive into that journey and find those people, and help them and bring them along with my journey as well.
What advice do you have for future or current students? How can they make the best use of their time while at MS&E and Stanford?
There's a lot of things that I've learned from my time here that I'd love to share. One of the more important pieces of advice that I could give is really to take advantage of the network of people who make up Stanford and the MS&E program.
For people like me who came to Stanford a little bit nervous about their place here, this may sound simple, but I think to me it took a long time to learn that there's so many people who want you to succeed. It really comes down to the network. Talking to your professors or alumni from the MS&E department, sending those messages, and introducing yourself can go a really long way. This may seem simple, but for someone out there who's a little bit confused and asking themselves if they really belong here, it really does go a long way, especially when it comes down to your later years when you're trying to figure out what you want to do next. That type of mentorship is really important and something that I'm really excited that I did find. It's hard to see when your professors might not look like you, but when they're so excited to teach you and take you under their wing, it's such a great feeling.
What will you miss most about your undergraduate experience?
I will be here next year, but one of the things that I really like to do is just take runs around campus. My first time, I was running down Palm Drive and stopped at the Oval and just took in the beauty of the campus and I was like, wow this is awesome. Location-wise, there's so many memories, like fountain hopping, playing spikeball on a field with your friends. A lot of my friends who are undergrads now won't be here next year, so it’ll be a bit hard to recreate those connections. So on a meta-level that's definitely something that I will be missing.
Did you have a favorite class or professor in MS&E?
One class that really blew me away was Tech Regulation of Medical Devices taught by Adjunct Professor Jan Pietzsch. I initially thought it was going to just be a regular class—it seemed a little bit related to MS&E, and when I first enrolled I wasn't sure how this would apply—but there's so many things that we have to think about when it comes to strategy in that area. Medical devices may seem so niche, but there are so many regulations and things we have to think about, especially when you think of AI and software as a medical device. Those types of things really got my gears turning, and I owe a lot to that class and Professor Pietzsch, because he really took me under his wing and I got to learn so much in that class.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I think one of the best things about MS&E was the community that I got to build from the different people that I met across the different courses.
When you think about what you're studying specifically, there's one big aspect—the academic piece of the classes that you're going to take. But bringing in people who also share those similar passions really knocks it out of the park when you combine everything, all the way up to our senior project. Those are definitely things that I feel very grateful to have had through the MS&E department and something that I'm excited for other MS&E undergraduates to also have.