As an international doctoral student from China, Yu Du has encountered her share of obstacles, not the least being that her name creates confusion among her American colleagues. Unlike some international students, Yu did not change her name to make it more Americanized. When someone says Yu, everyone turns to look. When someone says Yu Du, everyone wonders what they are supposed to do. So her first hurdle was to teach people about her name. It helps that she received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Sichuan Normal University, in Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China. After graduation, she worked for two years as a project assistant in an international construction company, assisting the project manager by coordinating between suppliers, subcontractors, quality control engineers and company personnel to make sure projects were completed on time and up to standards.
Because her father is a teacher, Yu decided to pursue teaching, and became a certified teacher of English at the middle school level. After four years of teaching, she asked herself how educators could increase students’ learning through more demanding methods of teacher evaluation. In 2009 she decided to come to Western Michigan University to take advantage of the Evaluation, Measurement and Research program in the Department of Educational Leadership, Research and Technology. In her own words, “At WMU, people support rigorous research that addresses the most pressing educational needs.” Her program, in which she received a Master’s degree in 2013, and expects to attain the doctorate by 2017, has provided her with a skill set that includes advanced theoretical and methodological knowledge she can apply to the educational research field. As she says, “Educational research no longer sounds like a big word to me. Instead, it’s a doable, realistic, systematic way to tackle educational issues.” She hopes someday to thrive in a dynamic school district or research institute where she can continue to apply her passion and utilize her skills to improve education through quantitative and qualitative research.
Yu has definitely striven to improve herself through every avenue available to her. She attends workshops sponsored by the Graduate College frequently, including “Writing Your HSIRB Proposal” and “Applying for a Graduate Student Association Travel and Research Grant”, led by Dr. Marianne Di Pierro. As a Graduate Student Ambassador for 2015-16, Yu honed her leadership skills by speaking to graduate student Registered Student Organizations, faculty and staff in the College of Education and Human Development, giving tours to prospective students, sitting on the Student Media Board as a representative of GSA, and working with Graduate College staff to facilitate graduate student trainings, graduate fairs, and recruiting events. She is an enthusiastic supporter of the Graduate Ambassador Program, which began in 2012 under the direction of Dean Susan Stapleton and is currently managed by Dr. Julie Apker, faculty fellow, and Carson Leftwich, Administrative Assistant II in the Graduate College. Yu says, “Being a Graduate Ambassador was a deeply rewarding opportunity both on a personal level and in regards to my career prospects after leaving WMU. I had the opportunity to get involved with many types of work allowing me to enhance skills I already have as well as gain new ones, such as leadership and communication in the higher education arena.” Yu also has a lot of good things to say about the Graduate Student Association. “As home to every graduate student, GSA is a big support for me here. I enjoy their signature events such as Grad Talks (http://www.wmich.edu/gsa/), summer trips to theme parks, Communiversity Night, and the Graduate Student ‘Evening of Excellence’ end-of-semester gala events at Monaco Bay and the Radisson Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo.”
When Yu, who is approaching her dissertation work, speaks of obstacles she has encountered in her journey to the Ph.D. at Western Michigan University, she is thoughtful. She points out that, especially for international students, feeling lonely, coping with cultural misunderstandings while being far from your support network, and the difficulties of learning academic speech and writing conventions can definitely hit hard. But she reminds her fellow students of all backgrounds that these challenges make us push ourselves harder to make adjustments and change our lives for the better. She points out “Fortunately, Graduate College staff members are available to answer my questions, connect me with the Graduate Student Association, and provide me with the technical support and intellectual guidance I need to complete my degree.”