Balancing the tension between freedom and responsibility──Professor Chia-Yu Yeh (葉家瑜)
Professor Chia-Yu Yeh, who just stepped down as chair of department of economics, National Chi Nan University (NCNU), often gave a professional, sharp, and rigorous first impression. When she appeared on the other side of the screen for a remote interview, her long hair and casual smiles against a backdrop of a daily living space gave a friendly and stress-free image. Perhaps it was the enlightenment from her years of masters' and doctoral studies at the Ohio State University in the United States. You can immediately sense her free spirit after talking with her for a moment.
Interests leading the way to find a profession
Speaking of her expertise, she said: "Economics is a fundamental skill that can be used to expand different interests." Chia-Yu Yeh stated, "the advantage of studying economics is that you can use the knowledge to further develop in any field." She started within economics and explored the unknown while trying various new things along the way. This experience enabled her to take on many new challenges and combine them with her expertise to create new possibilities.
"I think that is my characteristic!" She smiled and recalled her time at school. When she was first exposed to economics, she knew that the subject was her main interest. "I enjoy exploration on my own, and the diverse learning environment in college allowed me to develop freely and take my favorite courses."
Chia-Yu Yeh received a masters' degree in economics and a Ph.D. in agricultural environment and development economics in the United States. In the course of her studies, she noticed that Taiwanese students might not be as good as American students in terms of self-expression ability. However, Taiwanese students have solid basic skills and a comparative advantage in mathematics and science. Therefore, the process of studying is relatively smooth, and it is easy for Taiwanese students to obtain positions as research or teaching assistants, which releases some of the pressure of high tuition fees. There is also the opportunity to receive a stipend of more than 1,000 US dollars every month, which helps to unlock one's potential in a relatively competitive environment overseas.
Academic training and professional development
Beginning with personal interests in mind, Chia-Yu Yeh was lucky to successfully find research topics and fields of interest. Finding the right advisor in school is very important. She cited her own experience as an example. When she studied in the United States, majoring in the environment and natural resource economics, her thesis advisor happened to be an assistant professor who had just graduated with a Ph.D. She believes that newly graduated faculty members are highly motivated and enthusiastic. They often set high standards for students, have more research funding, and think outside the box. In response, students must come up with additional methods of communication to have discussions with the teacher, as there is a learning curve. She pointed out: "Not everyone is a good fit for working with new faculty members. But for me, I was a student who preferred to be less conservative in terms of research and development, so I think it was a good fit for me."
Selecting your academic advisor is like choosing your research direction. Students usually start out participating in and developing from the teacher's established projects and then derive their own ideas from topics that can be expanded beyond the advisor's framework. "This is considered relatively efficient in terms of developing a research direction, in my opinion," Chia-Yu Yeh said.
Establishing her research direction in her field of her interest and getting guidance from a young professor allowed her to build a solid academic foundation step-by-step. She was able to confront any predicament with active thinking in the course of her studies. She now uses her experience to encourage students who want to study in the United States to courageously chase their dreams while weighing between ideals and financial reality.
Economic topic freedom and academic responsibility
Chia-Yu Yeh's research focuses on agriculture and environmental economics, which has relevance to leisure. In 2007, NCNU began to develop a tourism and leisure business management curriculum, which coincided with Chia-Yu Yeh's expertise in leisure economics, so she took a teaching position at NCNU.
She points out that major difference between NCNU and her alma mater, National Taiwan University (NTU), is that department of economics at NTU places great emphasis on national economic policies, while NCNU focuses more on industry sectors and related research fields. Students usually choose to develop their careers in the financial industry. The advantage of training at NCNU is that it focuses on enterprises; therefore, students have diversified employment opportunities.
Chia-Yu Yeh emphasizes that basic skills, such as mathematics, statistics, and calculus, are essential for the economic field. "I think these are the foundations you must establish if you want to master the application of economics." Students at school of management must take diverse courses encompassing management, information science, tourism, and hospitality. If a solid foundation is built, other aspects of studies will come along.
Chia-Yu Yeh, who previously served as department head, believes that one of the characteristics of NCNU economics program is that the faculties' disciplinary areas are diverse and complete, and they respect each other. A few years ago, one student needed to write an essay to apply for graduate school. She proposed and recommended the department start a Special Topic course on graduation. "Don't just explore the topic of the essay by yourself because this is also an important milestone." The faculties thought the idea provided a course direction that could be further developed, so the course was launched and conducted in groups, a format without too much pressure. The course helped students find their future directions of interest utilizing what they had learned in college.
In addition to administrative duties, Chia-Yu Yeh has served as a reviewer for many peer-reviewed journals, such as "Technological and Economic Development of Economy", "Economic Inquiry", and the "Journal of Social Sciences and Philosophy". She was dedicated to the task when reviewing each manuscript assigned to her. In reviewing scientific papers, she learned about the latest international research directions. Moreover, she gained first-hand information in various fields and enhanced her research skills. While enjoying her own space and ideas, she also tries to do her best and never limits the space of others.
In recent years, the "invisible hand" has led the development of businesses shifting from the traditional "profit" oriented direction to the "responsibility" oriented direction. Keeping up with this trend, NCNU put the talents and resources of academic research accumulated over the years into the practice of social responsibilities. The development of rural teaching, the coffee industry, and the application of smart technology in agriculture have won numerous awards and recognitions for the university.
Chia-Yu Yeh participated in the projects of NCNU Center for Humanities Innovation and Social Practices and the social responsibility projects of the School of Management and the School of Science and Technology in recent years. She also collaborated with Dr. Yung-Pin Tsai, professor of development of civil engineering and dean of the college of science and technology, to help evaluate the social impact of the projects.
Since NCNU began to promote internationalization, Chia-Yu Ye has collaborated with her college classmate, Associate Professor Yiwen Chiu, who teaches at the department of environmental management, California Polytechnic state university (Cal Poly). They jointly launched a virtual exchange course, which is now considered a classic. She also actively invited Ku-Fan Chen, professor of the department of civil Engineering, and Yun-Ping Tseng, Associate Professor of the Department of tourism, leisure, and hospitability, and jointly offered a course on environmental management and sustainable development (Systems Thinking in Environmental Management), allowing students from the United States and Taiwan to attend classes concurrently. There was no disruption of international academic exchange opportunities during the COVID-19 epidemic. A group of Cal Poly students visited central Taiwan during the summer before the pandemic.
In cooperation with colleagues in various professional fields, Chia-Yu Yeh enjoys processes that generate sparks of inspiration, which open up many new possibilities. The cross-disciplinary collaboration also allows scholars to widen their horizons in research.