Tony Oberschall, Glen Elder, Guang Guo, as well as Ken Bollen, Jack Kasarda, Barbara Entwisle, Henry Landsberger, Howard Aldrich, Arnie Kalleberg, Gerhard Lenski, Peter Blau, and Peter Marsden, are some of the names that immediately came to my mind when thinking of my sociology years. Each of these professors left me with particularly strong impression as they continue to impact me to this day in life as well as in my work as a Marketing executive. I’d focus on the first three who advised me on my dissertation. .
I came to Chapel Hill for Sociology in 1986 but it was Tony Oberschall who a year earlier brought Sociology to me and a group of American Studies graduate students at Beijing Foreign Languages Institute (known as YiWai at the time and as Beijing Foreign Studies University now). Tony was a Fulbright Professor on sabbatical and celebrating his honeymoon. Under Tony, I did my very first Sociology survey, among peddlers in a farm market in Zhongguanchun, drafting my first questionnaire, conducting first interviews, coding, entering and analyzing data for the first time, and writing my first research paper. Tony and Lou Ann, Tony’s late wife, the warmest and nicest of North Carolinians, were instrumental in bringing me to Chapel Hill, taking me in like a family, assisting me and later my wife in our trans-Pacific transition from China to the US. It was also Tony who introduced me to Glen Elder, my mentor, specifically through the Retrospective Event-History Study of “State-Initiated Change and the Life Course in Shanghai, China”.
Glen shaped my intellectual view through his life course theory. Studying lives in historical time and place through the interplay of history, cohort and aging, with a focus also on the temporal dimension (timing and sequencing) of life events, the life course perspective held special appeal to me who had lived through the Cultural Revolution in China with a “rusticated” family, a life much shaped by the State-initiated changes. Glen’s impact went way beyond the intellectual. Among others, he honed my writing skills in ways that nobody else had and has since. I remember vividly the first one-on-one meeting with Glen over a draft paper. Seeing me a little disheartened at the page full of edits in red ink, Glen pulled from underneath a pile of paper a book manuscript equally, if not more, full of edits and encouraged: “This is written by an associate professor!” Glen’s craftsmanship with words was well-known among his staff. A letter was never done until mailed, his admin assistant would tell us. “Glen would walk to my desk, pick up a letter I have typed and start reading and editing again!” Glen served as a consummate role model for me when I later grew into a mentor for others later in my career. Like Tony through Lou Ann, Glen through Karen, his late wife, embraced me, Jack J. Liu, another ’86 Sociology student from Beijing and our wives with such open arms, routinely inviting us to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, lending us cooking utensils and furniture when needed, making us feel home in Chapel Hill way from home.
Guang served on my dissertation committee chaired by Glen. Guang was special because he was a classmate-turned advisor. Guang and I were classmates in Tony’s seminars in Beijing and came to the US the same year. While he was at Princeton with Princeton Population Office, we would visit each other during summers and over holidays. Guang’s academic achievements earned himself a faculty appointment in Sociology following a post-doctoral fellowship at the
Carolina Population Center and myself a much-needed methods advisor in a former classmate! Guang guided me in survival analysis of event historical data through logistic models, a modeling method that has proved useful to this day.
I left Chapel Hill in 1993 and entered the business world as a Sociologist. Ever since, a Sociologist by Training, together with a Bridge (Weiqiao, my middle name, means “being a bridge” in Chinese) has become part of my identity. I tackle a business problem the way a Sociologist approaches a research problem, with as much rigor and precision as allowed by available resources, through data-driven hypothesis testing. The rigor and precision of a sociologist in myself became part of the competitive advantages of the company I served which resulted in successful brands in the market place, generating benefits for customers and value for shareholders. In the age of big data and AI, the conceptual and rigorous sociological training I went through in Chapel Hill is proving all the more relevant and valuable in the business world. Much of what I have accomplished through my nonacademic career, I truly owe to Sociology Department at UNC-CH. I am forever indebted.
Willie Weiqiao Wu, PhD
Vice President, Marketing
Synutra International Inc.
submitted November 2018