The assistant director of admissions shares her experience with—and learns from—prospective students
Each Friday this summer, the Daniels Newsroom is telling the stories of the behind-the-scenes staff who empower students, faculty and the College at large.
It’s tough to know for sure, but Peipei Gong estimates that, every year, she speaks with 2,000 prospective students who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree from the Daniels College of Business.
Two thousand pointers on which of the College’s many programs or certificates is right for them. Two thousand tips for completing an application. Two thousand pieces of advice on how to nail an interview.
“That’s the good part with this job: I feel I’m helping people,” said Gong, an assistant director of graduate admissions who emigrated from China to go to grad school. “Especially for candidates from overseas, I definitely know the obstacles they are going to face and I can share my experience that’s going to help them academically and professionally.”
Gong grew up in Zhengzhou, a densely populated city on the southern bank of the Yellow River that dates back to around 1600 B.C. From a young age, she remembers wanting to become a diplomat, or maybe a secret agent like James Bond.
She settled on the former, working as a foreign affairs specialist for the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. During two years in South Africa, she facilitated cultural and economic exchange and helped create strategic partnerships.
“It was fun to have meetings with high-level officials and also advocate for China and do infrastructure work there,” she said. “After two years I realized I didn’t want to stay here forever or until I retire. It was nice but I felt like I was too young to be with one organization forever.”
She returned to her home country and took a job managing the executive MBA program at Tsinghua University, which partnered with INSEAD, a prestigious French business school. The exposure to students and faculty from around the world nudged her toward two things she had long considered but never pursued: a graduate degree and an experience studying in the United States.
Texas Christian University offered Gong a full scholarship, so she moved to Fort Worth, sight unseen. After all, Gong explained, visiting an American campus isn’t necessarily easy for an international student.
The transition to the United States wasn’t that easy either. She felt lost when her friends talked about politics or history. Deeper conversations were difficult. The meal portions were huge. And why did they put cheese on everything?
But Gong adapted and graduated with an MBA, focusing on data analytics, a STEM-designated concentration, to improve her chances at securing a visa. She transitioned into a job in marketing analytics and consumer insights, but felt bored.
“I am more of a people person; I like interaction with others,” she explained. “At that point I had had a few jobs in different sectors, I felt like I wanted to work in higher ed. But to work in higher ed in the States, I had to get a degree in higher ed.” For international students looking to stay in the country, Gong said, their job had to be linked to their degree. Plus, working in higher education would allow her to skirt the visa lottery process.
Gong enrolled at Northwestern University and received a master of science in higher education and social policy. Pressured by the visa process to obtain a job within three months of graduation, she took the first offer she received: a position in the admissions office at the University of Northern Colorado.
All of Gong’s experiences—moving to the U.S., earning two master’s degrees, navigating the American visa process—make her a better admissions officer in her work at Daniels, she said. She shares her own story with international students and can help them jump through the legal hoops of sponsorship, visas and immigration.
Plus, she said, her time as an MBA student has influenced the way she makes admissions decisions.
“I know people in my cohort, candidates from different backgrounds. Sometimes, they may not look good on paper but they actually did great in school and afterwards,” she said. “That can also reshape how I do admissions. I would advocate for candidates who apply to us that might not look good on paper, but I see potential in them, based on my own experience.”
Getting to know those candidates, learning about their lives, their struggles and their triumphs, is easily her favorite part of the job.
“They went through a lot, they have done an amazing job personally or professionally, but still want to know more. What they’ve been going through is very eye-opening,” Gong said. “I feel like, ‘Wow, life can be lived this way.’ It feels very inspirational.”