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Kevin Hong: Balancing teaching with research

Faculty Sketch

Yili (Kevin) Hong has always lived in large, diverse cities. First in Zhejiang province, near Shanghai, then Beijing, then in Philadelphia while completing his PhD at Temple University.

“So when I came here, I didn’t experience too much culture shock,” he says.

Kevin’s mother is a kindergarten teacher, his father an art professor, so Kevin was no stranger to the education field, but it wasn’t until he began working on his undergraduate thesis that research really became of interest to him as a possible career choice.

“I was very lucky. I did very well – nearly perfect – on the GMAT and TOEFL, and that opened several doors for me when I applied to PhD programs, even though I didn’t have a master’s degree,” says Kevin.

Kevin says new PhD graduates can sometimes struggle finding their first academic position.

“When you’re looking at schools to teach at, you need to look at who are your future colleagues are, and the strength of the department that’s hiring you. You don’t want to be in a department that’s an afterthought for the university. And you want to work with a team who will move you forward, not hold you back,” he says. Kevin believes the leadership at W. P. Carey has done a phenomenal job at creating a safe and supportive environment for faculty to flourish.

“It’s difficult to find such a collegial department. You hear all these stories about office politics at other schools, but not here,” Kevin says. “In the Information Systems department, we have lunch together daily. I haven’t experienced that anywhere else I’ve worked. You really get to know your colleagues. It seems like we all share the same passion for education, compassion for our students, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Where else can you experience that?”

Information technology is a rapidly-changing field, but that’s one of the things Kevin likes about it. There’s so many different things one can research, he says. Kevin’s research has touched on everything from how the gig economy is affecting the labor market to how consumers react to different types of social media advertisements to the proliferation of autonomous vehicles.

Kevin is currently involved in researching “fake news” propagation and how to deter people from spreading it through digital intervention.

“Researching and teaching are equally important, though,” he says. “In research, it’s a process of finding new knowledge. Sometimes you don’t find what you’re looking for and you’ve wasted months in the process. Whereas in teaching, you’re always making progress and moving forward. It’s very positive.”

Kevin is constantly impressed by his students’ critical thinking capabilities.

“Some of them have really analytical minds. I helped develop a new core class, WPC 300: Problem Solving and Actionable Analytics. It’s teaching students different ways of collecting and analyzing data, and how to find solutions. They have come up with some really interesting and unique ideas,” he says.

“Many of our students are really smart, and if you coach them, they can go far. The joy of being a professor is being able to help develop their abilities and watching them grow professionally.”

One small way Kevin is improving learning is by making certain he responds to every student email – in record time.

“I think it’s important to this generation of students to feel that they are cared about. One thing I do is reply to emails really fast. I repeatedly see positive comments about that in my class evaluations. It’s takes some time, yes, but it’s worth it. Making them feel like a priority keeps them engaged. It’s one of the little ways I try to make business personal for my students.”

Professional

What’s your favorite W. P. Carey School event? I go to the coffee chats and even got to present at one of them. It’s a great way to learn about what my amazing colleagues are doing.

Have you ever received especially good advice? I was in a PhD seminar when I was a graduate student and I heard something I will never forget. The professor said teaching life is very routine. There are classes to prepare for and attend, assignments to grade, etc. But your research life is not as structured. No one is going to tell you to do it. But you should routine-ize it. Write or do research every day, or it will not get done. Don’t let it become an afterthought. I have taken that to heart.

Where is your “never fail” lunch spot on or near campus? My first year here I pretty much only ate AFC Sushi in the MU. But my current favorite is Paradise Hawaiian Barbeque. It’s really good. It’s a 10- to 15-minute walk, but worth it.

What was your first job and what did it teach you? During the summer, I tutored high school students in English for the Gaokao (the Chinese national college entrance exam). It taught me to be patient, and how to repeat things many times in many different ways so students could understand.

If you could be in any other career, what would it be? I think it would be fun to be a high school English teacher.

Personal

What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done? Adventurous: Coming to the states. I had a well-paying job in an investment bank and I was leaving everyone and everything I know to come to the U.S. and get my PhD. It’s given me the opportunity to learn to be adaptive and flourish outside my comfort zone.

What was your best vacation or your most favorite place to travel? I’m not the type that enjoys traveling, but Hawaii is really great. I’ve spent time on Oahu and the Big Island and loved it.

If you could have one super power, what would it be? I’d love to be Iron Man. I like Captain America, but Iron Man has all the cool tech toys.

What movie can you watch over and over? Shawshank Redemption is a great movie.

What’s your hidden talent? I love photography. I have all the professional gear, but I don’t have a lot of time to devote to it like I did when I was younger.

Preferences

Salty or sweet? Both
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Soda or energy drink? Soda, but I don’t get to drink it often.
Cat or dog? Dog
Truck or car? Car
Board games or video games? Board games. I used to be a competitive GO player.
Fiction or non-fiction? Non-fiction.
Facebook or face-to- face? I like face-to-face, but some friends are better on Facebook.
Breakfast or lunch? Brunch
Morning person or night owl? Night owl