A scholar’s most-treasured asset — Professor Jennifer Yu Ching-jung
The research lab of Jennifer Yu Ching-jung (余菁蓉), a stellar professor of information management with National Chi Nan University, is a cozy space replete with tokens of encouragement and gratitude. There is even a cardboard stand of a cartoon-fied version of her decked out in an apron, with the back scribbled with messages saying “If it weren’t for the ‘spell’ you cast, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to believe in myself, cheers! All my love…” and “Thank Yu for making me a better person” and such.
A specialist in financial econometrics, Yu has been a professor with NCNU for over 17 years. She has mentored an incredible amount of talented students over the years, with many accepting offers from overseas universities and international companies upon graduating from Nantou.
For example, a student surnamed Liu (劉憲一) completed his studies two years ago at NCNU and is expecting to receive a graduate degree in computer science from Stony Brook University (SBU) in New York by the end of this year. Liu also won a coveted internship as a software development engineer at Amazon’s global headquarters in Seattle, Yu added.
Another pupil, surnamed Chang (張逸萱), was invited to join the annual meeting of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest association of technical professionals, in Brisbane as a speaker in 2012. She then accepted an offer from the University of Florida, and even became a teaching assistant during her Floridian studies.
Information management, Yu explains, is a vast interdisciplinary field comprising artificial intelligence, e-commerce, big data, and other popular applications of such technology and theories. Buzzwords like “big data,” however, fail to impress the professor, as she believes that the organization, processing, and delivery of information remains the key to this field.
She also relays a list of sought-after characteristics as outlined by the general manager of IBM’s Taiwan office at an event hosted by the Ministry of Science and Technology:
High degree of informational acumen
Familiarity with research models for data analysis
Ability to identify opportunities and locate resources
She elaborates upon the third skill set, explaining that this can be as simple as a candidate who seeks out readily-available answers via research instead of coding a solution from scratch.
Yu places most emphasis on imparting informational acumen and a global perspective, both of which can be facilitated by keeping abreast of the latest theories through international publications and thesis reviews. She also encourages her disciples to attend academic seminars in the United States and Europe.
The dedicated professor even founded an English-language book club for all students of the Department of Information Management — members are cheered on and encouraged to submit a weekly report as they attempt to finish at least 300 English novels before graduating from NCNU.
“I mean to watch and observe closely, because I’m preparing them for achievements that I can include in their future reference letters,” she explains, noting that she has doled out practical advice including volunteering without pay to help students gain more experience and empathy.
Instead of scaring away students with her strictness and drive, Yu often ends up with the most genuine, adaptable, and malleable crop of each year. In the past seven years, she has successfully mentored eight students who have been accepted by prestigious US universities by taking them to international conferences, guiding their school selection process, and providing information, advice, and “a game plan” essential for completing their overseas studies.
Under Yu’s tutelage, Liu, the Amazon intern and Stony Brook student, traveled to the United States to present at major conferences as an NCNU undergraduate. He also devoted his senior year to learning English, starting from illustrated stories to GRE and TOEFL practice books. Even though Liu’s thesis advisor was associate professor Joanna Chiang Mei-ling (姜美玲), he joined Yu’s Information and Finance and Economics Laboratory as well.
He still maintains contact with the department via mail, noting that: “When the future appears shrouded by confusion, graciously seek answers from the selfless professors of NCNU’s Department of Information Management. My fellow NCNU-ers, never retreat from such a treasure trove of knowledge empty-handedly!”
Another pupil surnamed Hsin now works for IBM, which usually hires fresh recruits straight from schools such as National Taiwan University (NTU), National Tsing Hua University (NTHU), and National Chiao Tung University (NCTU).
Recalling Yu’s encouragement — “amplify your courage and attend to details” — and technical advice, Hsin broadened her skill sets and life experience during her time with NCNU. She also learned how to work as a team player and broke out of her comfort zone.
“Those who return from overseas studies often out-perform those from [some of Taiwan’s best universities, such as] NTU, NTHU, and NCTU,” she explains. They return home with more confidence and courage, and they in turn become inspiratory role models for new classes of NCNU students.
“One student got an offer from Northwestern University, and the parents mortgaged their house [to cover tuition] in a move to let the child know that there is no turning back, but to match family support with studious perseverance,” she adds.
Abilities such as communicating in a foreign language and processing data via informational management training are “lifelong traits that make one irreplaceably hard to replace,” Yu reiterates, this time quoting from her student Liu’s letters.
Although Liu’s family were of modest means, he draws strength from Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s 1988 allegorical novel “The Alchemist” — “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” He passes on Coelho’s idea of a “Personal Legend” to the new generation of students now under Yu’s care.
A graduate of NCTU’s homegrown Institute of Information Management, Yu may not hold an overseas degree but she was invited to deliver a speech at Penn State University in 2008 as a Fulbright scholar. The experience was a major boon to her confidence and strengthened her resolve in tapping into international networks to broaden career opportunities for both herself and her students.
As an educator, researcher, and mother, Yu combats fatigue and insomnia with personal faith. “Teachers are meant to be a student’s most valuable assets,” she would remind herself when the stress of juggling three roles becomes unbearable. And with each leap and bound undertaken by her disciples, she becomes more apostolic in her support and grace, ever content to being a small cornerstone of their future accomplishments.
Those who are interested in learning more about the professor and her field can contact Professor Yu at firstname.lastname@example.org.