The journey between undergrad and graduate school doesn’t have to be immediate and direct, like a conveyor belt that carries students from one degree to the next. The journey might instead take years full of unexpected twists and turns. And often, that may be for the best.
Such is the case with Yang “Eileen” Chen, whose mantra is “it is never too late to learn.”
Born and raised in the Liaoning Province of China, Yang graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in English literature from the Shenyang University of Technology in 2006. She loved linguistics and was originally looking forward to teaching English literature and culture, but as she neared graduation and began teaching classes, she says she didn’t find the work stimulating.
“I felt that it was not really challenging work anymore,” says Chen. “For me, I always wanted new things and a new environment. I wanted change.”
That’s when she did a complete 180, leaving the classroom for the entirely different world of supply chain management, which was introduced to her by a friend.
“I’m very lucky to have known that friend who introduced this new world that I feel is very interesting,” she says. “I realized, no matter the physical materials or virtual materials we use, they are all related to supply chain. [The materials] are all related to our work and also our lives.”
In other words, the world couldn’t function without supply chain management and people like Chen, who study the intricacies of international trading and supply.
Before coming to the U.S. for her master’s degree, she spent more than 10 years translating technical materials, managing production lines, designing supply methods and communicating across cultures for companies such as BMW.
During that time, she even worked across international borders, picking up the German language and learning the importance of cultural intelligence in business, she says.
“I really enjoy the different cultures and getting to know the people, to know their logic,” she says. “We need that kind of understanding between different cultures, no matter if [it’s] Chinese or German or American. Otherwise, our work can be really blocked, because of different understandings of the behavior or of the cultures.”
In 2019, after more than 10 years of working in supply chain management, Chen — always eager for self-improvement — was ready for change again.
“So I left my old job and I moved to the U.S.,” she says. “I wanted to change environments, to learn new skills, to think of a new direction and to find more possibilities for the future career path. I wanted to make a very bold change of plans, so that’s the reason I decided to go back to college.”
When she arrived at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, a professor recommended that she consider enrolling in Hood’s Master of Science in Management Information Systems program, a program that would offer new opportunities while also drawing on the experience and skills she had picked up during the past decade.
A certified Project Management Professional, Chen is just one course away from graduating with her master’s degree. And, aside from being in the top 1% among her peers in STEM at Hood College, Chen’s professors say what really sets Chen apart from other students is her constant pursuit of knowledge and self-improvement.
“Her tremendous drive and self-motivation in constantly improving herself and her knowledge is truly inspiring,” wrote Dr. Carol M. Jim, assistant professor in computer science and information technology. “… Even when she was taking courses, she asked how she can learn more about data analytics, a field that she is interested in and wants to improve her knowledge on. She said that she wanted to ‘cherish full-time study and get the most out of college time.’”
Also setting her apart from her peers, says Dr. April Boulton, dean of the Hood College Graduate School, is how Chen spends her free time: volunteering for the Asian American Center of Frederick’s Intergenerational Reading Program, which is an early childhood literacy project.
“I am passionate about engaging in the childhood program,” says Chen, “and I believe that I can bring different cultural backgrounds into the literacy program and contribute to the community with my efforts.”
Institution: Hood College
Graduate Program: Master of Science, Management Information Systems
Education: B.A., English Literature, Shenyang University of Technology
Mentors: Dr. Carol Jim, Assistant Professor of Computer Science & Information Technology, Hood College; Dr. Mel Zuberi, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Hood College
This article originally appeared in the March 18, 2021 edition of Diverse and is one in a series of profiles about this year’s inaugural class of Rising Graduate Scholars. Read the rest of them here.