Photo credit:Cliff Hollis/East Carolina University

Class of 2018 Success Stories: BGSU doctoral student's passion for program bridges miles, years

Photo credit:Cliff Hollis/East Carolina University

By Kandace York
 
Bowling Green, Ohio is 7,562 miles from Hunan, China.
 
Yihui Li traveled those 7,562 miles to pursue her Ph.D. in higher education administration at Bowling Green State University's College of Education and Human Development. She completed her degree this December.  

It was the program leaders’ devotion to students that convinced her to make the move. “I chose BGSU because of the positive email interactions I had. I thought if faculty could do so much for a person they did not even know, then I could learn so much more if I became a student.”
 
It was still a gamble for Li and her husband. She left a university position in China; he left his job as well. “We had some savings, but not a lot."
 
Scholarships and a graduate assistantship made the move possible, but still difficult. She remembered thinking that she had to succeed in the program because there was no way back.
 
Initially, fitting in at the University had its challenges. But Li approached the experience from a different angle; she modeled it in her doctorate dissertation, "Do all Asian Americans Feel Alike? Exploring Asian American College Students’ Sense of Belonging on Campuses."
 
She described the findings of her dissertation by explaining that Asian American college students’ sense of belonging vary by ethnicity. A Korean American has different needs and reactions from an Asian Indian American, just as a Filipino American differs from a multiracial Asian American. This diversity within a larger culture unites Asian American students while enabling them to experience and contribute to their education in different ways.
 
Higher education was already familiar to Li. She had completed her master’s degree in China and had worked in university academic affairs for several years.

“These experiences helped me gain a better idea of China’s higher education system from a faculty perspective and an administrative perspective,” she said. “I could see its advantages as well as areas that could be improved. However, I lacked the knowledge, skills and experiences to make those improvements.”
 
This made BGSU’s higher education administration program a good fit. Her fellow students, faculty and family support network helped her feel comfortable in this new role.
 
“I attended the program with my sister,” she said, “and my husband was in BG with me the whole time.”
 
A close relationship with classmates strengthened her commitment.

“We were like a family; we studied together and celebrated our achievements together," Li said. "We split readings and took notes together. We even participated twice in our program’s Halloween costume contest, and we won.”
 
Beyond those factors, she said, was her graduate teaching assistant supervisor, Patrick Vrooman, Ph.D., and lecturer. “Words cannot even begin to describe how much I am grateful to him. He provided me with opportunities, time, resources and guidance to help me grow personally and professionally.”
 
This level of devotion to students was consistent among the program’s faculty, said Li, who recently started working at East Carolina University as an assessment associate in institutional assessment. “BGSU's faculty always made time for me when I needed help; they answered all my questions very patiently.”
 
Some of the program’s faculty members invited her to community activities and even to Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities so that she did not feel lonely during the holidays. “In class, they tried very hard to engage me in conversations; outside class, they engaged me in gatherings so I would not be left out."
 
Choosing one favorite faculty member would be difficult, she said. “I truly have learned a lot from every single one of them, and they all treated me very, very well.” After some thought, Li named Hyun Kyoung Ro, Ph.D., and assistant professor. “Hyunny’s personal and professional achievements inspired me to believe that I could always do better.”
 
Beyond being generous about sharing her knowledge, Li said, Dr. Ro observed things from the combined perspective of dissertation chair, advisor and student. Her follow-up suggestions reflected this “sum total” approach.
 
Completing a Ph.D. has been a grueling journey for Li in terms of time and distance, but through it all she has kept her passion for the program. Her advice to other students just starting their journey?

“When things get harder," she said, "focus on your goal.”