UNCP graduate overcomes language barrier

By Mark Locklear

PEMBROKE — Jingjing Gao impressed a packed room of political science scholars at the Midwest Political Science Conference in Chicago this spring.

A UNC Pembroke graduate student at the time, Gao made a presentation that examined the impact of social media health information on Chinese student health behaviors.

No one was more impressed that day than Joe West, a UNCP professor. Even though he barely recognized his mentee.

Gao wasn’t the same student who enrolled in The Graduate School at UNCP from China 18 months earlier.

“When I first met Jingjing, it was work just to try and understand what she was saying,” said West, director of the Master of Public Administration Program. “Her Chinese accent and lack of experience speaking English were concerning. She passed her English proficiency test at the lowest possible acceptable score.”

Gao’s 18-month transformation, West said, was a result of hard work coupled with the willingness of his colleagues to go the extra mile to help her overcome the language barrier.

“The changes in her writing skills from the start of her program to the end were nothing short of astounding,” West said. “Jingjing’s writing skills and her speaking skills improved so much that it was difficult to believe that the Jingjing who started our program was the same Jingjing who finished.”

She earned her master’s degree in Public Administration in fall of 2016.

Two weeks after her presentation in Chicago, she received an acceptance letter from the doctoral program of Public Policy at the UNC Charlotte.

“I think it is the most exciting moment when I was admitted to the Ph.D. program at UNC Charlotte,” she said. “I learned a lot when I was at UNCP, especially with the help of professors from the MPA program.”

She will begin taking classes this fall. Her doctoral degree will be fully funded by UNC Charlotte and includes an $18,000 annual stipend.

Jingjing’s acceptance into the program “says something very positive” about the professors in UNCP’s MPA program, West said. “More importantly, it is an indication that as a university, UNCP is changing lives.”

“Providing written feedback on assignments completed by an English as a Second Language (ESL) student typically requires many hours of additional work on the part of the professor,” he said. “Our professors provided the feedback necessary for Jingjing to grow in her written skills.”

Jingjing took part in the 1+2+1 program which allowed her to receive two master’s degrees, one from UNCP and the other from Henan University in China. She earned a master’s degree in Social Medicine and Health Care Management from Henan.

West knew Jingjing was special when he discovered she was helping one of his research assistants.

“Jingjing was doing as much or more work than my assigned research assistants. Jingjing had no expectation of payment for her time, she was helping because she wanted to learn,” he said.

West paid her for her work and eventually hired her as a research assistant.

“I learned a lot from (Dr. West),” she said. “I learned how to collect data from legislators from across the nation and how to use statistical software, like STATA. Dr. West, Dr. William Albrecht, and Dr. Robert Schneider gave me much supportive suggestions for my Ph.D. application. I also appreciate the help from Dr. Irene Aiken, who is always ready to help me. I want to thank them for their effort and hard work.”

But, as West and his colleagues will attest, it was Gao’s dedication and hard work that propelled a Chinese national from a rural province in China to a highly competive doctoral program at UNC Charlotte.


By Mark Locklear

Mark Locklear is a Public Communications Sspecialist with UNCP. He may be reached at Mark.Locklear@uncp.edu.

Mark Locklear is a Public Communications Sspecialist with UNCP. He may be reached at Mark.Locklear@uncp.edu.

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