Deacon Profile: Tal Feldman

Feldman received a Schwarzman scholarship to study in China

Prarthna Batra, Staff Writer

Senior Tal Feldman has grown up with one goal in mind — wanting to work for the U.S. government. But while a lot of students at Wake Forest may sit with such dreams, Feldman has secured a Schwarzman Scholarship to spend a year studying global policy at Tsinghua University in Beijing.  

“I moved to the United States when I was really young, and I am really grateful for all the opportunities it has provided me in terms of education, and I feel a real sense of wanting to give back,” Feldman said. “I’ve known probably since elementary school that I want to go into public service, and if there was a way to combine my interest in computer science, math and my passion for the country and giving back, it was exactly this.”

The Schwarzman Scholars Program aims to build a global network of young leaders that are passionate and prepared to confront the pressing challenges the modern world faces. Through his work at the Federal Reserve and the State Department, Feldman has learned that a deep, critical understanding of China is vital.

“In every piece of work I have ever done or every internship I have worked related to global policy, the question always turns to what China’s perspective on the matter is,” Feldman said.

Through the Schwarzman Program, Feldman hopes to better understand not only the language, people and culture of China but also its government.

“It is a major shift from what I am used to in all perspectives,” Feldman said. “I’m hoping this help and exposure will all be valuable in the future when talking about foreign policy and [I hope] to be the person who has been there and knows how things are on the ground level — not just from reading articles about it.” 

Feldman is a Stamps Scholar originally from Fort Worth, Texas with a double major in mathematics and economics.  During his sophomore year, he co-founded the Collegiate Association for Inequality Research, which encouraged student-led research groups and culminated in a virtual conference that drew more than 120 presenters from 48 universities. 

“We were encouraged and helped along the way by a lot of mentors,” Feldman said. 

“They’ve encouraged me to take intellectual risks and take initiative. Without the encouragement and support this community has always given me, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Feldman was then named a Truman Scholar while completing a full academic year of study at the London School of Economics as a junior, where he also gave presentations at the local United States Embassy on Artificial Intelligence technology. 

“I was drawn to apply because studying at the London School of Economics last year really broadened my perspective about matters in Europe, and I really wanted to broaden my horizon beyond the United States and Europe,” Feldman said. 

Feldman is currently studying abroad in Chile to complete his last semester at Wake Forest. He was among 151 candidates selected for the Schwarzman scholarship from 36 countries and 21 universities around the globe. 

Feldman described the application process to the Schwarzman Scholars program as a thought-provoking and extremely competitive program. Feldman was inspired to apply because he was curious to learn more about China and how the nation impacts the world. He plans to use this knowledge in his future work — which he hopes will be with the U.S. government.

“It really pushed me to think about and synthesize the narrative of who I am and what is most important to me and what my goals are,” Feldman said of the application process. “I think that applying for a fellowship like this really helps you cut down all of your thoughts into something that you can write on a piece of paper, and that is really helpful.’’

Feldman’s interest in this area of foreign policy arose in the summer of 2020 when he started reading papers about it. 

“I always knew I had an interest in computer science as well, so I put those two together and wrote a paper using AI to analyze Russia’s misinformation and how Russia presents itself to the media,” Feldman said.

Feldman’s paper led to his internships at the State Department and the Federal Reserve, and he credits his AI background with his success in scholarship applications.

‘‘I think these are two crucial things that have led to me winning this fellowship because China holds a great deal of importance in the AI field,’’ Feldman said.

Feldman is also looking forward to getting to know the 150-person cohort with which he gets to spend the next year. In preparation for the big year that lies ahead of him, Feldman has been brushing up on his Mandarin skills and has been speaking to past and present Schwartzman Scholar graduates to understand how he can maximize his time in Beijing.

“Spontaneous, interesting, and educative conversations with a group of all very learned people is something that I’m really looking forward to — and to, of course, continue my work in the fields of AI and economics.”

Feldman credits the Wake Forest community and the Scholar’s Office for their support and for allowing him to nurture his interests and grow. 

“I know for a fact that if I hadn’t come to Wake Forest and been supported in the ways I have, I wouldn’t be here today,” Feldman said. “I’ve had professors and other mentors across the Wake Forest community that have encouraged me to think deeply about all of the things I’m interested in. Beyond just thinking about them, they have encouraged me to take intellectual risks and take initiative to start different clubs and organizations.”