In the Pursuit of Excellence: Top Ten Graduate Yao Yao
Chris Edwards | 07/11/2019

Always be enthusiastic and always maintain your passion

Yao Yao, a 2019 graduate from the School of Environmental Science and Engineering at Southern University of Science and Technology, positively lit up the stage during the Summa Cum Laude Graduate award ceremony earlier this year with her bright and cheerful smile.

Four years at SUSTech has not only brought Yao Yao out of her shell, but helped her develop precious friends. Most importantly, she has found her direction in life for scientific research, which she really was not sure about four years ago.

Yao Yao will go to the University of South Florida to complete a Ph.D. in Physical Oceanography. She will study applications for detecting ocean color through satellite signals in environmental monitoring.

“I am the kind of person who will get actively involved in my local community, work out who I am and where I belong. The environment here at SUSTech had a great impact on me.”

Like many students, Yao Yao struggled when she first came to SUSTech, and admitted that she did not have particularly good grades on leaving high school, finding it hard to learn in some of her early classes. However, she was able to recover, departing SUSTech with a GPA of 3.79, finishing second among her 26 classmates. She attributed this change to SUSTech, its learning environment and its academic culture.

“My roommates often helped me, explaining challenging topics to me.” Over time, all four members of her dormitory earned scholarships each year, becoming a veritable dormitory of academic wonder. She was among the top students in the general education classes during her first year, and sat on the self-management committee at Zhiren College.

“I could see who the best students were, and learned from them.” Identifying talented people and their specific talents assisted Yao Yao in finding her motivation to continue improving, as she sought to learn from those that knew than she did.

Yao Yao drew energy from many places in her time at SUSTech. Zhiren College is one area to which she will always have a strong connection, and she most certainly made her mark on it. “The residential college system was a highlight of my time at SUSTech. It was a way for me to find myself within a group of people.”

She had a deep understanding for the importance of involving more people in college activities, and this was most clear during the First College Congress held by the Zhiren College Self-Management Committee. A series of unique awards was created by the committee, which generated additional interest among the students, on top of more traditional awards. Yao Yao’s role in the committee was clear among Zhiren College residents.

After four years at SUSTech, Yao Yao can see the future for residential colleges at SUSTech. While there is still plenty of room for improvement and development, students needs to play a more creative role in the colleges. “I think that students can play a more active guiding role in the development of the colleges, rather than positioning themselves as students under the jurisdiction of the colleges. Only in this way can the residential college system truly realize its functions and provide students with a better living and learning space.”

Yao Yao was born and raised along the Huai River. She has always a great interest in hydrology and water pollution. Yao Yao has always dreamed that she could do the best for her country’s environmental governance. After two years of general education, Yao Yao knew almost every teacher of the School of Environmental Science and Engineering, and had already joined several research groups during her first two years. As part of her exploration through the School, she found her mentor in satellite remote sensing and environmental monitoring, Assistant Professor Feng Lian.

Yao Yao commented about Feng Lian’ impact on her. “He would arrive in the office before 7am and leave at about 10pm. Whenever he had the chance, he would visit the laboratory, asking each of us about our progress and any difficulties we were experiencing.”

She was deeply touched by the hard work Assistant Professor Feng Liang put into his scientific research, as well as the concern he had for the students under his charge. Yao Yao also agreed with the rigorous consideration of the value of the subject when she chose the topic. During her studies with Feng Lian, Yao Yao felt her role model’s influence. “The faculty members at SUSTech made me feel that they represent their scientific research.”

With Feng Lian as her mentor, Yao Yao found what she wanted to study and moved forward through her degree, in an area that she was truly interested in. She will continue her studies, hoping to become an expert in the field, and potentially become a faculty member at a top university, just like her mentor, when she eventually returns to China. Yao Yao was inspired by Feng Lian, and has found a yearning for teaching and educating in her life.

Not only has she found a desire to teach, but she also found a desire to travel. With SUSTech’s many opportunities for students to undertake academic exchanges overseas, Yao Yao took part in three such programs throughout her degree, all related to her ultimate scientific research direction.

At the end of the first year, Yao Yao traveled to Vancouver to spend time at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where she took courses related to geographic information system (GIS). One project she worked on simulated the impact of road construction on the nesting patterns of migratory birds. Such a project was her first exposure to map, satellite and environmental knowledge, which sparked some joy within her.

The following year, she traveled to the United States, where she studied groundwater pollution and prevention. She was fortunate enough to stay at the home of the former president of the Course Cooperative Company, some of whose children work at NASA. Being exposed to such an academically inclined home, Yao Yao first learned about the use of satellites to monitor the shrinking ice sheets, which later saw her determine her direction and selected Feng Lian as a mentor.

Yao Yao said that she has already met her future mentor at the University of South Florida, when they gave a lecture at SUSTech. They are very authoritative in environmental monitoring, so in the summer of her junior year, Yao Yao went to the University of South Florida for a month to study scientific research on Feng Lian’s recommendation. This month-long exchange strengthened her determination to choose this field and laid the foundation for her doctoral application.

Yao Yao said that the lectures and exchange programs of international experts helped broaden her professional horizon, strengthen her academic ideals, and played an indispensable role in her applications.

“The cutting-edge disciplines are still in the United States.” Yao Yao plans to concentrate on completing her doctoral studies, taking advantage of her youth to contact the cutting edge of the field. Undergraduate students mainly study hydrology, so she still has a lot to learn. With that in mind, she is also trying to learn more information to prepare her for her studies.

Yao Yao said that one of the most attractive aspects of SUSTech was that students had more possibilities and choices, to the point of being able to select their own way.

She remembers that a team of experts from a foreign university came to SUSTech and commented that if a famous international university was a bright light, the freshmen could join the bright group directly like a small light bulb. A young SUSTech was like a shimmering lamp, in that only when every bulb inside is bright does the lamp shine intensely brightly.

Reflecting on this comment, Yao Yao said that she wanted to be one small bulb that is part of a larger lamp, because she wants to drive those around her to shine, for the betterment of SUSTech.

During the four years of Yao Yao’s time at SUSTech, she has not only become a font of environmental knowledge, but gained a firm and unshakeable enthusiasm for environmental protection. Turning her yearning into a goal into a reality, she will no doubt become a leader in her field, with a longing for the future and gratitude for SUSTech’s role in her formation.

2019, 07-11
By Chris Edwards

From the Series

Graduate Stories

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Translated and Adapted By SUSTech Newshub

Proofread ByXia Yingying

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