Meet Karen Weng and Li Na
As ambassadors for the University, they actively contribute to the Illinois-China partnership. Within their roles, Karen & Na explore diverse opportunities for Illinois executive training programs, support Chinese alumni experiences, and assist prospective and incoming students and families. They liaise with top companies in both countries to ensure successful career paths for students and alumni. Additionally, they coordinate career fair opportunities in China that reflect the world-class caliber of an Illinois education.
GET: How did you get connected to the Shanghai Office?
KW: Before this job, I worked for the State of Illinois Department of Commerce. I worked for them for about 3 years, doing higher education exchange and high school exchange programs with Zhejiang province. I was able to travel to Illinois before this job, so I’ve been to Chicago, Rockford, Peoria, and other small towns and universities. When [my former] office was getting registered under the State of Illinois, their representative told me that I should apply.
LN: My first job was [at] Auburn University at Montgomery. I worked there for 5 years, [in] international programs. And then, it was a little bit too calm! I wanted to have something different, a little more challenging. So, I applied to the University of Illinois. [Having been] employed by a U.S. university, and working in China, I can use my language, background, and cultural expertise. Luckily, I got this job.
GET: Can you describe what a typical day looks like?
WK: A typical day for us would be contacting companies and partners, or receiving calls [and] inquiries from the public. We get phone calls from students, parents, companies who are interested in the University. We reach out to companies, universities, government agencies and promote our programs on-campus or in China to them.
LN: Illinois professors also send us requests, like, “Hey, I’m going to be in China...can you please help set up some meetings?” And that’s when we go out on WeChat to an alumni group and other business contacts.
KW: We’ve got Chinese partners, and they’re asking us to help facilitate the communication. For Chinese companies, sometimes they need us to bring more knowledge of the whole structure of the University.
GET: What is Illinois’ mission in China, from your perspective?
WK: Each [U.S.] university [with a representative office] in China has a different mission. For Illinois, since we have such a large Chinese population, we are really dedicated to serve this population. We care about students and alumni, and we care about our relationship with China. That is something different about our approach.
GET: How do you stay in touch with Illinois graduates when they return to China?
LN: WeChat. We're talking about thousands [of students]. Not all of them are checking WeChat at the same time because so much is going on. [Another way] we connect with them is through the University’s central email newsletters. Or, if we have an event, we share this event with campus career centers. If students come to the events, we can reconnect from there.
GET: How has the office changed since it was first established?
WK: Career services [has] been the primary goal since we started. The University of Illinois is the first university to start career fairs for students in China. The first year, we did an Illinois [sponsored] career fair, just for our students in Shanghai. We got about 20 companies that joined us. And about 150 students came to the fair. A lot of other U.S. universities have had overseas offices in China [longer] than us, and they [joined] this event [in subsequent years]. This summer, 2,000+ students and over 100 companies attended career fairs and related events in 3 cities.
GET: What excites you about your job?
LN: I enjoy meeting all kinds of new alumni. Whenever you talk to them about Alma Mater, no matter if they just graduated or if they’re 10 years out from school, you can see the light in their eyes. In being able to connect students who just graduated, and to see them, from one stage to another of their life, you feel like you are part of their progression.
GET: What is the future of the Shanghai Office?
WK: [Making the] Illinois brand more recognizable among the general public [in China]– not just among the students. We [are also] reaching out to more University partners and corporate partners who are not just interested in recruiting our students. For example, they can come for training at Global Education and Training; they can do research, sponsor students, or aid in scholarships.
LN: We have our hands on so many different aspects. I mean, you are talking about two countries and their relationship. China is growing very fast. They have a huge demand for all kinds of collaboration. We are not looking at 1 or 2 years. We are looking at 5 or 10 years down the road – that what we are doing will pay off.
Thanks, Karen & Li!