Adam Lichtenstein ’95 *10: ‘I don’t know the secret sauce of the Princeton alumni community, but it’s a special thing to be a part of’

Adam Lichtenstein standing in Maclean House

Photo by Kevin Birch

As an undergraduate, Adam Lichtenstein ’95 *10 aspired to be an engineer. While he did become one, it wasn’t in the way he imagined. At Princeton, Lichtenstein majored in mechanical and aerospace engineering and pursued a certificate in the School of Public and International Affairs. Post-graduation, he started his career in venture capital, where he now works in quantitative finance. “I build mathematical models that try to help us understand financial markets,” he said. “While I’m not building rockets, the core engineering skills still apply even if it’s not exactly the industry I thought I’d be working in.”

After returning to Princeton to earn his master’s in finance, he was asked to serve on the Alumni Council Class Affairs Committee, eventually serving as vice chair and chair. “I think I checked the box of being an undergrad and a graduate alum,” he said. “Both were wonderful experiences and I got to see Princeton from both sides.” His experience informs his duties as Alumni Council treasurer, overseeing the operating budget and advising committee leadership and officers. 

What originally led you to attend Princeton? 

I knew I wanted to go into a technical field, computer science or engineering of some type, but I wasn’t exactly sure what. Throughout high school, I had my eyes set on MIT. But when I started touring different schools with my parents, I came to the Princeton campus and fell in love. I knew I would have an opportunity to be an engineer while also getting an excellent liberal arts education. In retrospect, it was the perfect decision for me. 

So, how did your experience at Princeton lead you to what you’re doing now? 

In 1995, I came out of Princeton with my aerospace engineering bachelor’s and went into finance because the aerospace industry wasn’t hiring people like they are now — SpaceX didn’t exist back then. I enjoyed working in finance, but over time, I craved getting back to something more technical. So I went to graduate school, also at Princeton, to get my master’s in finance. I used that degree to pivot to a more quantitative area of finance. Since then, I’ve spent my entire career in quant finance, which is, at its core, an engineering discipline. 

When I returned to Princeton for my finance master’s in 2008, it had been more than 10 years since I was an undergrad, so I got to refresh a lot of my technical skills. I was married and living in New York at that point, so I was mentally in a very different place. When you’re an undergrad, you spend a lot of time searching for what you want to do. As a graduate student, at least in my case, I was much more focused, I knew exactly which courses I wanted to take and what I wanted to get out of them. 

When you look back at your transition to a Princeton alum, what was your first introduction to volunteer work in the alumni community? 

Like most alums, my first exposure to volunteering was as a prospective student interviewer. I would do about four interviews a year, which I thought was a lot until I met alums who do 40 because they’re the only person in that part of the world. It’s pretty remarkable. 

Coming out of graduate school, I served on the Alumni Council Class Affairs Committee for many years as a participant and eventually as vice chair and chair. Then Mary Newburn ’97 asked me to join the Alumni Council as the assistant treasurer in 2021, serving alongside Monica Moore Thompson ’89. It was such an amazing experience that I was happy when Monica asked me to stay on as treasurer. I try to provide support, advice and guidance to Monica and Ryan Ruskin ’90, as well as the individual committees, helping them fulfill their missions. 

I’ve been involved with other organizations, and you don’t see the level of volunteer participation that you do in our alumni community. Normally, getting 5 or 10% of the community to engage is a pretty big thing. At Princeton, we see multiples of that. I don’t know the secret sauce here, but it’s a special thing to be a part of. 

The Alumni Council’s theme for this term is ‘I am Princeton, you are Princeton. Together, we are Princeton.’ How do you see this theme playing out over the next two years? 

I’m really interested to see how the alumni community continues to evolve over the next two years. We have an extremely engaged alumni community and historically that engagement has been through class organizations. While this continues to be a source of engagement for many classes, we’ve seen a growing trend of engagement also becoming more geographic and aligned with certain affinity groups that cut across the classes. And there are many new forms of engagement beyond the traditional class organizations that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago. At the end of the day, we want to tap into the alumni community’s love for the University and do it on their terms.