"Students at BIS have fulfilled my expectations. They are really engaged and ask very good questions."
Fan Gao realized she had a vocation for working with adult learners as a doctoral student in interpersonal communication and psychology at Northwestern University. She also taught at Northeastern Illinois University and sometimes traveled to their suburban campus 90 minutes from her home in Chicago to teach an evening class. “Even though it was close to midnight before I got back, I loved it,” she says. “Compared to the traditional students I taught at Northeastern’s downtown campus, the adults students worked harder and were more eager to learn.”
When Gao learned about the opening for a faculty member in the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program, she jumped at the opportunity, seeing a way to combine her interests in adult learning and psychology. Her interest in interpersonal relationships and stress reduction strategies—her area of specialty—comes from her own experiences. In 2004, she traveled from Beijing to enroll as a graduate student in the University of Hawaii. “It was my first time in a foreign country, one with a very different educational system and cultural environment,” she recalls. “I was under a great deal of pressure to succeed.”
Later on, she dealt with the trauma of having a dear aunt develop depression and then die of cancer by establishing a website to help those in China learn more about measures that they could take to nurture their psychological well being. “Counseling services in China are still in their initial phases,” she says. “I thought I could help those suffering from grief and stress address their problems more effectively.”
Gao is teaching developmental psychology and mental health disorders, among other courses. “Students at BIS have fulfilled my expectations,” she says. “They are really engaged and ask very good questions.” And although she is once again under pressure—preparing two new courses, mastering new software for teaching online, and looking for housing—her reliance on such stress-reduction techniques as exercise, yoga, and meditation have helped her manage the transition. She finds just being in Charlottesville relaxing. “I have always lived in big cities like Beijing and Chicago,” she explains. “Nature is quite beautiful here. I love it.”