West Virginia University College of Business and Economics professors are known for engaging and providing students with life-changing experiences. Dr. Li Wang is no exception.
With her expertise in organizational communication, the teaching assistant professor in the Marketing Department demonstrates exactly that each day while teaching business communication courses; even more so with her faculty-led study abroad trip to China. We asked Wang about the trip and her teaching strategies.
How did you get into marketing and organizational communication? What sparked your interest?
When I started my graduate school studies here in the United States, I wasn’t really sure where I would go. When I was in China, my background was in English and diplomacy, so I was interested in large international organizations, like WTO. I think I took a couple communication courses, and that really sparked my interest. Communication is so prevalent; it is everywhere. Just like when we talk, it’s a communication process. Then, I found out there is a specialty in organizational communication, so that’s really where I find my academic home. I’m really intrigued by how organizations communicate among themselves and across the boundary with customers, with clients and with all stakeholders.
What is your strategy or approach when it comes to teaching business communication?
I try to keep students engaged. I rarely use long lectures. I always mix class activities, case studies with some sort of discussion or elaboration on the concepts that we learn and how they connect to real cases. Something to make them think and to really engage their critical thinking. Sometimes, I use techniques to bring a surprise element into it. For example, a few weeks ago, I had students work on an e-mail assignment. I used a recent case about Uber piloting autonomous cars in Pittsburgh as a scenario and asked the students to write a message assuming they were the president of an on-campus technology group talking about this Uber test drive in Pittsburgh, seeing if members would be interested in going to try it out. I asked students to really write a bad message, to sabotage the message, write it as badly as possible. That’s kind of the surprise factor, and they really enjoyed it. It brings in their creativity, but also make them learn about key elements of a good message.
Tell us about your faculty-led study abroad program to China in May 2016.
I took four undergraduate students, and we traveled with the MBA group. It was the first year this undergraduate program actually become available. We spent 10 full days in China. We went to three cities – Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai. There were three major components to this study abroad program. One of them is to visit companies in China. We visited ICBC, the Chinese largest Bank, and then we visited Xi’an Janssen, which is a joint venture between China and Johnson & Johnson. We also visited another joint venture in Shanghai, which is Shanghai GM. That was really an eye-opening experience. Another major component in this trip was to visit universities, kind of an exchange with Chinese college students. We visited Peking University in Beijing, which has the number one business school and is the number one university in China. It is really like the Harvard or Yale of China, so we had a great time there. We also visited Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, which is also a very good business school, and we had lectures and activities with students. The third major component is really cultural immersion – really immersing students into the Chinese culture, including food, cultural shows and famous landmarks – Great Wall, Forbidden City, Terracotta and so much more.
Why did you decide to take these students on this trip? What is the benefit for students to study abroad?
I can trace the idea back to my 199 classes. For the 199 intro to business course, I teach the honors sections, and I have some of the best students at WVU. While I don’t need to worry about their grades or attendance or completing their assignments beyond my expectations, I asked myself what more I can bring to students; what more can I do for them to broaden their horizons, to really make them see beyond what’s around them. Study abroad is one thing. I think I’m in a unique position because I am Chinese, and I work here. I am in a unique position to offer this opportunity to students. Of course, study abroad is also such an important experience in that not just a resume builder, but it’s really a life-changing experience for students. I realized how important it is for every student, every business school student to have this kind of opportunity because of the prevalence of global trade and international business.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
It was really fascinating to see how students interacted with the culture. When we visited ICBC Bank in Beijing, we sat down in their boardroom to talk with two fund managers. That was a great experience to learn China’s stock market and how it goes up and down. When we actually toured the office, in the common working area, there are a lot of cubicles. It’s like in the United States, but on the side, there is a rack for cell phones, so that was something students didn’t expect. It is not common practice in the United States. It really shows the high standard of the company. When employees work at their desks, they are supposed to put their phone away. That’s kind of interesting point that students talk about.
I could go on and on. The food – students really enjoyed the food. We really had genuine, genuine Chinese food. It’s not like food for tourists. A couple of my students were really adventurous or audacious to try new things. It is such a proud moment to see students venture out on their own, not just traveling with us.
The study abroad trip to China is being offered again this May. For more information on the trip, please email Dr. Wang at Li.Wang@mail.wvu.edu.