The Northwestern business-economics department has undergone some big changes over the last few years. Two long-time faculty members retired or moved to other jobs, and two new econ faculty joined One of these new faculty members is Han-Yen Kao.
Kao’s story begins in Taiwan. When one grows up in Taiwan, their major is often chosen for them. Kao was given the major of public finance, which has three distinct available paths. These paths are accounting, economics and law. He decided when he was a rising junior in undergrad that he would pursue economics and aim to become a professor.
He described the key factor that led him to this decision, which was based on his professors in undergrad. Professor Kao explained that he received advice to choose a lifestyle instead of a career. This led him to pursue a career as a professor. It would allow the work-life balance that he desired, while at the same time allow him to do something that he enjoyed.
After finishing undergrad in Taiwan, Kao completed one year of mandatory military service in Taiwan. He pursued studying for the exam required to apply for PhD programs while at the same time working a full-time job. During this busy time, Kao also married his wife and began to start his family. Including his military service, this took place over the span of four years.
Kao was accepted into graduate school at Rutgers University. He explained that he chose to study in the United States because it has many of the world’s best economists. It was difficult to get back into the rhythm of studying, and it was difficult adjusting to a new culture at the beginning of graduate school. He explained that the beginning of graduate school was one of the harder times in his life. He passed the qualifying exam at Rutgers which over half of PhD applicants do not pass.
He had originally planned to return to Taiwan after obtaining his degree but chose to stay because he enjoyed the U.S. culture and work environment. He explained that there is a cultural freedom in the United States that is unique. He described that the freedom to be yourself is something that other countries do not enjoy in the same way. In the U.S. people can be themselves, but in other countries there are often social hierarchies that shape behavior.
Kao was drawn to teach at NW at first by a simple job posting. He explained that NW knew where to put their advertisement, as it was the first place every recently graduated PhD student will look. He also noted that he was happy to apply to a Christian institution. As he began to learn more about NW, his interests in coming to Orange City grew.
Meeting Professor Fan Fei was an important factor in his decision. He and his family were nervous about being accepted in a community like Orange City. When he met Fei, he was assured that his family would be accepted in that community. It was also reassuring to have a colleague that had gone through something very similar to what he had gone through.
“The moments I enjoy the most are when I’m in class and I feel like the students are really learning. I try to increase those moments,” Kao said.
Kao was drawn to teaching for its lifestyle, but also by his passion to teach and relate to students. He described that he values building relationships with students, and he explained that he has already begun to enjoy doing so with students at NW.