China experience will provide Schwarzman scholar an international perspective

alex marley standing outside
Northeastern graduate Alex Marley recently earned a Schwarzman Scholarship and was named one of the Boston’s innovative young leaders (BostInno’s 25 Under 25). Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

One can say with confidence that Alex Marley, 23, has gotten the most out of his time as an undergraduate student at Northeastern University.

He participated in research at two labs, completed two co-ops, founded a newsletter on startups, became a managing partner at a venture fund, and was named one of Boston’s top 25 leaders under the age of 25 by BostInno. He will graduate with degrees in electrical engineering and economics.

And Marley is not slowing down. He was recently selected for a Schwarzman Scholarship and will be going to China to begin graduate school in the fall.

“It felt like a unique time and opportunity to pursue,” Marley told Northeastern Global News. “I could go into a professional job or continue a career path that would essentially be my path for life, or I could take a wild-card opportunity—go to China for a year to gain an unforgettable experience.”

headshot of alex marley
Northeastern graduate Alex Marley, who recently earned a Schwarzman Scholarship, says he sees himself working at the intersection of engineering and entrepreneurship, given his interest in startup companies and venture capital investments. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Endowed in 2013 by billionaire businessman Stephen A. Schwarzman, the scholarship encourages future leaders to develop a better understanding of China and its culture. Each year, the scholarship provides 200 students from around the world the opportunity to live in Beijing for a year, study global affairs at Tsinghua University and build relationships with other young leaders.

Marley sees participation in the program as a stepping stone in developing an international perspective, meeting people from all over the world and furthering his leadership skills, while learning more about manufacturing in China.

“They are one of the largest economies in the world, and gaining firsthand experience of how to interact on an international scale is impossible without experiencing China,” he says. “If I want to act as a bridge between engineering and entrepreneurship on a global scale, it’s imperative to have that skill set.” 

Marley grew up in Los Angeles and joined a robotics team in middle school. That experience, he says, was a big catalyst to his interest in entrepreneurship and engineering. In high school, he did photonics research in a material science and electrical engineering lab at the University of Southern California.

At Northeastern, Marley didn’t stop at just being an engineering major. He also enrolled in a separate program for economics, which allowed him to understand the financial side of innovation.

Marley says Northeastern helped him align his interests in engineering, finance, investing, entrepreneurship and research. 

“At Northeastern, you have the opportunity to really try those paths quite quickly and quite efficiently,” he says.

In his four-plus years on campus, Marley has worked in an electrical engineering lab, designing a 64-channel printed circuit board to enable wireless data visualization and recording, and in the Augmented Cognition Lab with professor Sarah Ostadabbas.

“Undergrad students should be very exceptional to be accepted in the lab because we have only graduate students and postdocs working in the lab,” Ostadabbas says.

She describes Marley as humble, dedicated, easy to communicate with and curious.

“Being curious is important because then you’re going to open up a different opportunity by asking the right question at the right time,” Ostadabbas says.

Marley realized his interest in startups at his first co-op at defense technology startup company, Notch.

“I was able to pivot into more of an engineering entrepreneurship crossover getting that experience,” he says.

His second co-op was at a coffee technology startup called Cometeer, which developed a proprietary process of brewing and freezing coffee with a liquid nitrogen to lock in the flavor and freshness.

“I was the first control engineer at Cometeer when I joined as a co-op, which was pretty incredible,” Marley says.

He was also the only electrical engineer at the company. Marley was responsible for commissioning Cometeer’s first full-scale production line and facilitating all controls and software integrations. 

He ended up working at Cometeer for almost two years, supporting growth-related projects and helping optimize the quality and efficiency of the coffee extract brewing process. Although he doesn’t like coffee himself, he learned how to taste it and tell a good one from a bad one.

“I’m coming out of my four-and-a-half-year program with two-and-a-half years of work experience. I don’t think you can do that anywhere else,” Marley says.

He admits he didn’t have much time to relax during his time in college: he took classes every summer and during his co-ops to be able to graduate with a double major. He did take advantage of the Honors Dialogue of Civilizations program, going to Italy last summer.

Marley currently works as one of two managing partners at the Boston office of Dorm Room Fund—the original venture fund for student investors and entrepreneurs that raised $12.5 million to invest in early stage startups. He manages a team of about a dozen investment partners across schools such as MIT, Harvard and Northeastern.

“Some of the best companies are founded by students,” Marley says. “So we believe that some of the next biggest companies coming out into the world will be founded in universities.”

Before going to China, Marley is looking forward to relaxing with family and friends during the summer after his graduation.

“Who knows where it will take me,” he says. “But my philosophy is to pursue the best opportunities that come your way. And it’s hard to pursue an opportunity better than Schwarzman today, at least for me.”

Alena Kuzub is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AlenaKuzub.