Professor Spotlight: Dr. Ke Wu

Photograph of Ke Wu talking with Ashby Kinch in the University of Montana College of Business' Studio 49

In this episode, we’re in the flow with Dr. Ke Wu, a professor in UM’s department of mathematical sciences. Ke reads “Ascending the Heron Tower” by Wang Zhihuan, which propels our conversation about her early years in China, her winding path to math education, her journey to Montana, and her work to optimize access to math for learners from diverse backgrounds.

Episode Extras

For more on Ke Wu’s research, see her Google scholar profile, including recent work on American Indian and Native Alaska outcomes in Math, and on mentoring in STEM from a feminist perspective 

Read more about the Tang poet Wang Zhihuan, including some of his poetry in translation.

Interview Transcript

RICELA FELICIANO: Ke is very smart, enthusiastic, and energetic. 

MEREDITH HECKER: She's just so easygoing. It's really easy to enjoy her company. 

DORCELLA EASTMAN: She encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and take another step forward. 

FELICIANO: She cared a lot about me as a person, as a human being and those things are making a difference. 

HECKER: She really does care about her students' success. And that was a driver for me to feel like, well, if somebody believes in me like that, I definitely want to live up to that belief. 

BETH LASK: I would say that Ke is probably one of the, the women I look to the most in terms of somebody that I would like to pattern my life after, because she's warm and caring and she considers other people's opinions and voices and really promotes ideas that I think are, are amazing. 

ASHBY KINCH: This is Confluence where great ideas flow together, a podcast of the graduate school of the University of Montana. On Confluence, we travel down the tributaries of wisdom and beauty that enrich the soil of knowledge on our beautiful mountain campus. You just heard the voices of Ricela Feliciano, Meredith Hecker, Beth Lask, and Dorcella Eastman. They're talking about Dr. Ke Wu, professor in UM's department of mathematical sciences. I'm your host Ashby Kinch, associate dean of the graduate school. I'm delighted to share my conversation with Ke who has an impressive track record as a mentor of graduate students, particularly emphasizing support of women and people of color in math disciplines. Ke has a diverse educational background, including degrees in law and policy, counseling psychology, and applied and computational math. This array of experience underpins her research on the educational practices of STEM disciplines and has led her to important international and regional collaborations to improve math education. Every episode on Confluence, our guests read a passage about rivers drawn from literature. For this episode, we are thrilled to share a passage of Chinese poetry, Ascending the Heron Tower by the eighth century Tang Dynasty, poet Wang Zhihuan. You'll hear Ke read it in the original Mandarin, followed by an English translation, which leads directly into our conversation about her upbringing in Henan province, her educational journey, and her inspiration to come to Montana. We also discuss her recent work on grants to support Native American professional growth and a key emerging idea, humanizing mathematics. This movement aims to optimize the potential of learners from a diverse range of backgrounds. We're excited to share our conversation with listeners who will learn a lot from Ke's journey from China to Montana. Welcome to Confluence where the river is always with us. 

KE WU: This is a poem written by Wang Zhihuan. 

bái rì yī shān jìn, 

huáng hé rù hǎi liú, 

yù qióng qīan lǐ mù, 

gèng shàng yī céng lóu. 

KINCH: Thank you for joining us on Confluence, Ke. 

WU: Thank you for having me. 

KINCH: Well, so for English listeners, I'm going to read a translation of the Wang Zhihuan poem. 

The sun behind the western hills glows, 

Toward the sea where the Yellow River flows. 

Wish to see further, an endless view? 

Mount one more story and higher rise. 

What a lovely poem, much more beautiful in the original. Um, tell us about that poem. Why did you choose it and what does it mean to you? 

WU: I love this poem, um, for several reasons. Eh, the first two sentences, uh, we're about capture majestic, huge vision, a picture of the mountains, the sunset, as well as the Yellow River, which is what we Chinese call the Mother River, um, in my culture. So, the Yellow River runs to, toward the sea. So that captures a beautiful view of the Mother Nature. Then the next the two sentences give you a kind of philosophical kind of aspect. If you want to see further with a bigger vision, then you need to go up higher. In this point, it's go up to the next level upper of the tower. 

KINCH: Yeah. Does the "Heron Tower" itself have any significance, cultural significance, 

WU: Well, it is, uh, uh, power that, that's build to by the Yellow River. I think it was in Shanxi province. So, I grew up in, in Henan province, which literally transla-, translate Henan as the south part of the river. It's south part of the Yellow River. So, the Yellow River, um, runs miles -- thousands of miles -- in China across from the, uh, west, uh, inner land through the desert where the silver, Silk Road had, uh, started as an, it has a cul-, a lot of cultures and in ancient times people live by water, right. By the river. So, it provide also fertilization of the land so people can plant all sorts of greens, foods, and so on. So, that's where the culture started. 

KINCH: And, and, and it's where you started, right? So, it's your homeland and Henan is, is different, uh, language, it's a different culture. You want to talk a little bit about that? About sort of, what does it mean to be, uh, within Chinese culture, from Henan rather than from one of the, uh, Beijing or one of the major cities. 

WU: Yes, Henan is, um, it's in the plain, the, the province is on the plain ground. So, it's one of the roots of a long history of Chinese culture. So, so for example, we have uh, the, the most, you know, ancient people leave in my province started as a you know, the language is, uh, China and other Chinese Kung Fu came from the Shaolin temple, which is in Henan province. So, a lot of cultures, language, and the so on, rooted from where the plain, which is right by the river, the water, um, that's where it started. So, it has, I often say, oh, I come from a small town. I grew up in Xinxiang City, of two million people. So, it's uh, a place, lot of rich culture history, but a lot of populations as well. 

KINCH: Right. 

WU: The concept is totally different-wise. It's small town here, people see small town, of like a couple of hundreds, a couple thousands people, right. 

KINCH: Right. And in Montana, of course, Missoula is a big city. 

WU: Right. Right. Right. The other day I was just thinking about this definition of ruralness is so relative in a sense, even people from east coast, they say, oh, rural. The whole Montana is a rural area, right? So, versus I say I grew up in a rural small town of two million people. So. 

KINCH: But a labor-intensive culture requiring a lot of manual labor to produce the agricultural system over, over the many, many centuries. And so, tell me a little bit about your educational journey. I mean, what took you from Henan province to Beijing University where you first studied? 

WU: Yeah, so it is, uh, uh, a big change. Uh, I went to the university of, Beijing University of aeronautics and astronautics for a law degree study. And it's, the field I study was more of the laws and ideological and educational mad-, administration. So, um, that is a huge change for me as a 19 years old, to go to even bigger city living on a campus that has a lot of intelligent, you know, people like, uh, when I was in high school, in my hometown, like, I'm one of the best students, right. You don't have to study very much. You, you, you still get very good grades if we say grades is a measure. But in college I realized, ooooh. You know, in Chinese we say, shān wài yǒu shān. Means, the mountains there are always higher mountains outside what you are seeing. 

KINCH: Uh, Oh. What a great, yeah, what a great, I mean, we, I think we say, big fish in a, in a small pond, uh, that is, uh, but that's a much more, captivating. There's always a, another horizon beyond. 

WU: Beyond, yes. So that's when I realized, oh, wow. The, my, my classmates are super intelligent. The faculty members get, uh, you know, have frontier research and so on, so it's, it's a eye opening experience. 

KINCH: Yeah. And, and, and you completed the degree. And I think the formal name of it is ideological and political education administration, which I think in, in the American system would be like a law and policy type degree, but then decided not to pursue that. 

WU: Right. So, through the studies, my educational journey is so different. Uh, It's not a linear path, right? So, I realized, Hmm. This field, uh, working a large corporation. Um, to look at the, the laws or policies, uh, regarding, you know, human resources and other aspects is not quite what I want to do. So, I learned what I don't want. Then I became a middle school teacher in psychology, right, teaching middle school there in a school in Beijing. And during that time I realized I love teaching. Um, however I realized it, back, China back then did not have an area called a school counselor. And the society when, is going through such big change, a lot of kids that I teach, definitely have high needs of counseling or psychological, emotional support needs. But we don't have such like, here in U.S. there's school counselor, right. There are special education teacher. There are other professionals to support kids who have those kind of needs. We did not, back then. 

KINCH: Maybe that role would've been played more by family or a larger kin network or something. There wasn't a recognition yet of the need to tie it to the educational institution. 

WU: Right. And this field is like, you know, psychology and it's always more Western-oriented kind of field, right? So, the, the, you are right. So, the role of family play a lot in that role. So, I wanted to get some more of, uh, advanced, uh, kind of a higher education in the field and that's when I came to here in the United States to pursue a master's degree in counseling psychology. 

KINCH: Right. So, so yeah. Tell us about that. What was that process like? And were you comfortable right off the bat kind of moving into the American educational system or what kind of acclimation did that require? 

WU: Yeah, it was interesting. So, when I looked for graduate program, because Beijing is such a huge city, metropolitan areas, it's big city, right? So, I want, intentionally pick smaller campuses. So, I picked a, U of Minnesota Duluth campus. It's a relatively smaller town compared to Minneapolis and so on. Um, they're counseling psychology program is pretty good. And I was the one, only one, non-American student in this whole program. So, it was fascinating to get to learn some of the cultural aspects of United States, you know, like it's Midwest and majority of grad students come from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and this Midwest culture is very heavy there. Um, and they, they are very friendly, lovely, nurturing people in the program. So, I grew a lot through the program. Like, I learned, did internship as school counselor in elementary school, middle school, and high school. And then that's why I realized, hmm. My background, uh, grew up, growing up in China is fantastic. However, as a counselor, you need a lot of grounded knowledge, like movies, for example, some kind of very tiny like, language. If your client says it, if I as a counselor did not catch it, I won't be, will not be able to provide a high quality of counseling to support this individual. So that's why I really... 

KINCH: Kind of subtle cultural signals that, that, that you might not pick up on. 

WU: I don't think I will ever be able to pick up. By not growing up in this country, in this culture. So that's when I started to feel like, okay, I need do something else to, to, to, to add onto my professional profile. So, while I was working on my, uh, thesis for the counseling psychology, I started to become a TA for the mathematics department there. And during the time of, this is another, whether we call failure of a story or success story, it took me two years to finish my master's. This is for counseling psych. Because my, it's totally different field writing in English. Is very different, right. Like IRB application, getting data, all took much longer than anticipated, so meanwhile... 

KINCH: But let's, let's, you know, give yourself a break. That's your third language right after Henan and Mandarin. And, and you're learning a whole new field as well while you're doing it. That must've given you a great insight into how challenging graduate study can be, right? I mean, the sense of the difficulties. 

WU: Right. And, and that, that also gave me to become, uh, more patient with the graduate students. It doesn't matter whether they are, English is their native language or not, because there are, could be other kinds of cultural shifts or shocks to our graduate students, right. So, I become more patient. And to, to see where are you, how things are working, why it's not working, what can we do to help to support? Is it extra time? Is it additional, you know, sessions on learning how to write a scientific way. It took me two years finish my master's. So, I'm more patient. 

KINCH: Yeah, very empathetic. Yeah. And so, so you made this shift to math and, and stayed with it and did an entire PhD. 

WU: Right. So, it's, it's sometime, you know, you say, the life, academic journey has your, your intention as well as sometimes it happens as it flows in the river, like flowing, right. So, when I was finishing, uh, the master's degree in counseling psychology this thesis, uh, as a grad student, you had to have some kind of imp-, income, right? So, TA for math department is one of the possibilities and they are so generous, okay, um, you can you know, TA us and then take some of our courses and so on. So, I finished a master's degree while I was working on a master's for the psychology degree. So, that's when I realized, wow, this is a beautiful field of mathematics, statistics. And as I integrated my background in counseling psychology and how brain works, you know, how do we learn? How do we process information? So that's how I've come to the conclusion, okay, first of all education, I want to become a teacher, uh, whether it's K-12 or professor at, you know, college. Um, because education as a field is highly respected in my culture. 

KINCH: Yeah. Tell me this proverb that you shared. It's beautiful. Share this proverb, uh. 

WU: Yeah, it's, shí nián shù mù, bǎi nián shù rén. It means it takes 10 years to plant and grow a tree and it takes hundreds of years to nurture people, right? So, so the education field is a field that it takes time and generations of people to devote into it. So, I want to become one of those people. 

KINCH: Yeah. And I mean, I love that proverb because it reflects such a great, um, historical sensibility of the Chinese people. That, that, the depth of our system goes back in time. You know, that you don't just make it up, uh, you know, on the fly. And that there's a history behind it. That's carried forward. I think that's really important. That sense of what we bring with us to the journey. 

WU: Right. And, and I said like, give you a sense of education such important foundation. It, it's not a quick, fast, food shot, get it done. It takes generations and time and resources. 

KINCH: And patience. 

WU: Patience. 

KINCH: Wonderful. And so, so after having completed this PhD, um, um, you now were faced with a kind of new, you, you never had an inclination to go back to China. You kind of wanted to stay in the United States system and tell us about that set of decisions and how you ended up here. 

WU: Yeah, that's a very good question. So, I always have this mixed feelings of one eye crying of, you know, excitement, appreciation about the opportunities to stay in this country because United States has such advanced culture and environment to support research, support immigrants, support people who have different thoughts and so on. Um, on the other side, I have the other eye always crying because I miss my, my home culture, where I grew up, right. The people, majority of my family are still in China. The food, um, the language, um, the, the, the, everything there too. So, it's always a mixed struggle of where to go. Um, to me, I was fortunate enough to, during my 8 years of graduate dedication, here, uh, to receive scholarships. Either it's TA, you know, teaching assistantship or research assistantship. I feel I owe the people of this country who pay the taxes for me to get a scholarship, right. So, in that sense, like, okay, this is a wonderful culture that welcome immigrants and so on. Uh, and I, I've benefited from the system here in the sense that, uh, received scholarships to support my graduate education. Eight years, that's a long time. A lot of money, right? So, I'd better pay back to the people of this country. So. 

KINCH: I can't tell you how happy that makes me to hear, to hear you say it, just because there's two sides to that one is that, that, um, it's good to talk about how we invest our taxpayer money in education, right. You know, but, but then now you're sort of saying that you feel like there's a reciprocal obligation then to pay back, to pay that forward and, and clearly in your work you've done so, right. That you, so, so you, you knew you wanted to, uh, apply to public universities and you knew, you kind of had a profile of universities in America that you might want to apply to. 

WU: Right. So, I look, it's, my field in mathematics education is somewhat. By the time I graduated, the job market is super-hot. Meaning, every PhD, we don't even need to do post-doc, because postdoc often is a transition from the doctoral education to the professional or faculty position, right. So, my field often does not need it because the market is so hot in the sense every graduate of PhD would have three to four tenure track positions waiting for you. So, I had an option. I applied, you know, I pick the places I want to apply for and got offers like from the east coast, very good institutions. And that, and here, so the salaries were different, right. Uh, Montana wins because of the, this place is quite special. Um, I, had an opportunity to visit Glacier National Park in 2006. And that's before I graduated, it was such a wonderful experience as to be, to see the mountains, the water, and it just almost appear to be magic. Um, so that's why I pick a place here, uh, versus somewhere like Boston college and so on. So, the offer got turned down there because this place is so special. And another reason is the people. So, I had a really wonderful interview experience onsite here. The mathematics department here colleagues are very down to the earth kind of people. So, you don't see like a, when I was in the graduate program, uh, in Minnesota. I had an experience of hearing faculty yelling at each other in the hallway for example. Or, in the different field in math education, whether you're in the mathematics department or education, um, there are tensions and a so on. There's no such thing here, even now, right. So, so my colleagues here the people, the faculty here are so supportive and understanding that's something very unique on this campus. 

KINCH: Yeah, and I mean, you've tied in, in a very powerful way to that unique aspect of place here, right? That, that so much of your work has been about trying to support, uh, people of color, uh, especially Native students. Uh, let's talk a little bit about that work because this energizing, uh, idea in the field of humanizing mathematics, uh, you're the first person I've heard, you know, say that phrase. So, tell us more about that phrase. What does it mean and what is the field kind of thinking about in terms of shifting its attention? 

WU: So, mathematics field has, let me use an example. If people ask, what do you do? I say, I teach mathematics at a college. They were at first like, well, I hate math. There's pretty big portion of people say that. Then the other people say, I'm good at math. But this field in a sense become in the, in the way that often it's somewhat to appear to be objective. Right? Equations and so on. The, the human sides somehow got lost through whether, you know, we set up this educational system, the curriculum, and it's on the pedagogy. So, in, in, in recent moment, you know, COVID-19 pandemic that has brought up, and the pandemic of social injustice toward Black, Asian, American Indian, other people of color. So, to bring up our field to reflect on what can we do? There is something we have not done well to help foster more humanized experiences in the learning of mathematics, starting young age, up to the college level. So that's something, I'm not, the first person to bring this concept up, but it's, it brings up sometime, this gives you the, you know, the, what we call yin yang are two aspects of anything, right? So, the pandemic is horrible. On the other side, it woken up a lot of people in education, in teacher educators, in teachers to reflect upon, what can we do to change? Because obviously things, there are things not working well. 

KINCH: And the pandemic may, may have just brought those to the surface and, and made more people pay attention to them. 

WU: Right. Right. So, for example, the, the, the mathematics education group at, uh, Montana State University, Bozeman campus, and us here, U of Montana, Missoula campus. We decided to collaborate on a math ed seminar in last fall. And we choose to, to study and learn about the social justice and inclusion in mathematics in the sense is rehumanizing mathematics, right. So, so we, we read, we, we listened to podcasts, and so on, and then we have discussions and then we look to see how, how we as math research, math education researchers, teacher educators and people in general to help support and foster this kind of shift in our, uh, educational system, right. So, I also have people like my older son's teacher who is, uh, you know, first grade teacher talked to me about, um, the, the classroom, school environment curriculum, how do we make sure that gender topic is addressed appropriately, right? So, so, like example I heard my son came home saying things like you know, the, the boys are doctors, girls are nurses. That just made me mad, right. So, we, we talked to the teachers and then they address it. They have talk about how there are different identities and how even in first grade there is a topic is that, if we avoid it, then there are some subtle implicit biases and culture would pass along to our children, right? So, so this teacher openly talked about and what as resources are there, and then she adapted into her classroom. And then they also talk about the different, you know, they talk about the Crow language in counting, in mathematics and so on. So... 

KINCH: So, bringing Indian education for all principles into the math classroom. In other words, not seeing it as something kind of to the side, but actually bringing it right into the math room. 

WU: Right. In a very natural way. Not appear to be super artificial, right. So, it's kind of what, what has other language, language is to say one to 10. And how do we add and so on. So, it's fascinating to see our teachers in the field bring more of this kind of inclusive and culturally sensitive or culturally responsive kind of curriculum into their classroom. 

KINCH: This might be a bit of a digression, but I'm kind of curious when you say that one to 10 paradigm, um, you know, there has been some neuroscientific research on the problems that English, uh, speakers have with counting because of our number system. So, even though that's a completely natural concept, right, we all grow up learning how to say 10, 11, 12, but 11, 12, 13, 14 are weird numbers. And the French, you know, are way worse. Uh, you know, they have the, they say 80 by saying, "quatre-vingts," right. Four times 20, which makes no sense at all, but it's an ancient cultural practice, right. That has continued in the present, but it actually inhibits math learning. And, I think Chinese functions differently there and is more efficient, do you want to say a little that? 

WU: Yes, it is more of Chinese more a multiplicative system, it's base-10 system. So, we say, say 10 20, 30. We say, shí, er shí, san shí. That means, 1-10, 2-10, 3-10, Right? So, it gives you the multipl-, it tells you, two groups of 10, that's 20. Versus English is one like a 20, 20. What does that mean? 

KINCH: Yeah, you can't back derive 20, 30, 40. It doesn't really make sense. So, yeah, that's a great example. And so, this is a place where cultural knowledge, understanding that there's a difference actually frees teachers up to think about what they need to do with a set of students that's different. They can't naturalize. They can't just accept the cultural assumptions. I think that's really important. I know it's a degression kind of from where we were headed, but I think it's a good point about your overall project of humanizing math, that, that this actually does have a kind of practical implication to effectiveness of teaching. And one of those areas would be modeling. I think this is really important in your work that, uh, as a female mathematician in a male dominated field, right. And as a non-white mathematician, you model for students, this possibility that they might not get in their, in their other environments. 

WU: Right, so this, the power of seeing someone like you in the profession or the field that you want to be is extremely important. And there has been research done to show that the model of people of color or the model of Native American faculty members or staff on campus, just by seeing someone to see the possibility to be there is very important for our students to see. 

KINCH: Yeah. And you've built that into your research. Let's talk a little bit about that, that, that one of the things I'm sure, when you started your journey from, uh, from Beijing to the United States, you hadn't probably anticipated, but it's been really central to your work is working with Native American culture. So now, um, over the last several years between PNW Cosmos and now Willow Grant, you're working on really important projects for cultivating, uh, Native graduate students. Could you talk a little bit about that work? 

WU: Sure. So, I was a participant as a faculty in the PNW Cosmos project. So, I participated in their, um, PISA Indigenous mentoring program modules. And, uh, worked with my grad student's who's Native, uh, on the project to learn about the, uh, the culture, for example, how Indigenous research methodologies are quite different from our Western research methodologies, right? So, the ways of knowing, um, from Indigenous way, perspective is different. The concept is different, right. So, um, in that sense, uh, I learned a lot of the strategies and understanding of Native culture, and the way of learning and so on. So, then with that, that applies to, this is analogy, often people say uh, anything you learn in, in one aspect or a special group would benefit all, right. So, it's not like I only apply the knowledge I learned into the Native student's population. It also applied to other students, and as well, to be more sensitive to their background of their, assess where they come from and so on. So, that bring it into the next one is the, the research, the way the National Science Foundation funded this Willow AGEP, uh, Alliance project is supporting Native American faculty success, is a project that that's a collaboration with, uh, so University of Montana and the two tribal colleges, universi-, um, Salish Kootenai College and the Sitting Bull College, the overall goal of the project. Well, the project has about, um, 20 researchers. Half of them are Native American. Half of them are people like me Asian or, uh, woman in science and so on. So, so we worked together in the past a few years to, um, learn and gather data, do research to learn, develop a model that would include three interconnected components. Uh, first one would be, uh, Indigenous mentoring component for faculty, one Native. Another component is what we call the research publication and the grant preparation program. And the third component currently we're working on is this, what we call in-, institutional support component. So, we use this willow native plant, willow, as a metaphor to see those components some of them are roots like institutional environment support program is a roots of the willow, right. Then we have the stem of the willow as the, um, the mentoring program. Then, then our research publication might become the leaves because. 

KINCH: As it flowers. 

WU: Yes, right. So, so the, those, this program is to, again, we learned a lot. It's not. So recently I'm doing reflection on what's the role as a researcher, someone like me, who's non-native working with Native populations to support. Now, first of all, we need to learn, how do they define, for example, definition of success, right? So, success is not a word in Native languages, right? So, when we talk, writing proposal our Native elders say, our language don't even have this word. We have the concept in it, in our languages and culture, but it's different. This is a Western definition. So, we need to learn, how do our Native American faculty member define the concepts of success. Without knowing that or with knowing that then we can start working with them to shape our program, the model that would support, um, their success, right? Or, professional satisfaction, whatever we call. So, so. 

KINCH: And for a Native community, it's often going to involve some sense of a community uplift, right. In other words, it's not going to be the individual. It's going to be the whole community. And I think that's such an important component. I'd like to kind of go back a step because I think that the connection between Cosmos and Willow that I, that I find really compelling from the grad school perspective is that you're looking at this entire higher educational journey. What I've been calling the vertical journey that you think about a student, um, you know, that might attend a tribal college, uh, and it might only be a two-year college and then they go on and get a BA and they might be the first in their family to do each of those steps. But then that master's is another step. And then the PhD is another. And so, these two grants together are kind of looking at this whole life cycle. And one component of the Cosmos that I think really struck me, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, is that home visit, um, the, the, the faculty member being asked to come with the Native student to a community and, and learn from the ground up, you know, it's not necessarily gonna be there for months, right, but a few days to learn something locally about what, what that experience is like. Can you talk a little bit about your experience with that? 

WU: Sure. So, I, I think it's a shift of how we look at the relationship of faculty and our graduate student. Often in the, in the old way, we would say, Hm, do you fit into our college? Do you fit into our program? If you fail a course, maybe this is not good fit, right? 

KINCH: The deficit is on your side. 

WU: Exactly. So, the perspective is more of, if we use power dynamics, is more of us, the institution, is more in powerful position and someone like a Native student have to fit into our system. So that concept of home visit it comes from, I think that if you use critical race theory or, or tribal crit theory, it's more of shifting the power dynamics to say, no, no, no, no. We as an institution, we as faculty need to learn what are the cultural assets? And community wellbeing, their cultural language strengths. This student bring to us and to have a better understand, because then we can work with a family. Once we have a better sense of where this Native student come from. Maybe the dialogue more coming from talking to the mom even still needs a little bit of a push on certain things, right. Rather than working directly with this kid. So, I think that there is a shift of this home visit is to learn and the first off put ourselves of sev-, faculty members as a equal peer relationship with being respectful, in reaching out to learn who the student is, where the student come from, and what can we do together, togetherness to support this individual to be successful. 

KINCH: Yeah. And you've taken, and I think that's such an important point, you've taken that very broadly in your, in your support and understanding of your role as a mentor, to every graduate student, whether they're Native or not. And, I think that's such a powerful part of what your mentoring role you in particular is on campus, that you bring such energy and support to your students. Um, tell me a little bit about that, about, you know, what are you looking for in a graduate student when they apply? And what do you see as the kind of goal, uh, of the graduate journey for your students? 

WU: So, for me, because you can, you hear my educational journey it's not a straight linear, perfect linear line getting into grad school. So, I have, and not just me, I think many different degree programs, the graduate committee and so on, start to shift the ground when a student applying to our program, we look for different things to have a holistic view understanding of who this individual is. Does this individual have academic content and knowledge ready for our program? So, we look at, so the GRE score is not something that we take very serious anymore because it's, research has shown it's not a pre-, good predictor for the successful for graduate study. So, we look more of the coursework a student did. We pay very close attention to the individual's personal statement, uh, because that document tells us as the, the, the voice from this applicants, their own story on who they are, why are they applying for a graduate program? Do they have the motivation? And then we, we look at the, the letter of recommendations to see the, some of our colleagues, or other people, how in their perspective on this individual, what are the strengths what are the, some of the areas that the student can learn more, and so on. So, it's more of a holistic perspective of the individual, um, whether the student is ready or not. 

KINCH: Mm. And then when they're here, you're kind of doing that same thing, but you're trying to propel them forward. Right. You're trying to sort of say, okay, you know, we, here's where we need to see growth. We need, here's and then here's what you can see as an asset. So, what would you consider to be a kind of goal or benchmarks that you're looking for in your student's growth throughout the course of a degree and let's, let's focus on the Ph.D. I think that's because of the longer period of time there. 

WU: Well, let, let me come back to one more aspect on when I look at the graduate applications, um, is that the w-, also think of a way of this, do your direction fit us? Because sometime an individual doesn't quite know what is the specialty of this graduate program is for, and we need to have a judge on are we a good fit for the student, as well as whether a student is good fit for us, right? Sometime we might say, hmm. This program's not, you have a fantastic profile. Our program is not good fit for you. Look into this university's grad program might be a better fit for you, right? Then some other time, we say, wonderful, you're interested in a Ph.D. program. However, we think a master's degree program might benefit better to start with and to see what it is like. Feel, have a sense of, the field. Um, then decide, okay, do I want to go for Ph.D. or not. So, so that application process we, as a grad committee members, we also have this kind of obligation to, to help the students, or candidate, to look into the fitness or a good fit for each it's a dual direction, right. 

KINCH: The mentoring begins right from the very beginning, from the moment you're reading that application, you're already thinking about how do we work with the student? that. 

WU: Right. So, come to your question on the Ph.D. program, what are some of the benchmarks? So, to me there are several tiers, or several, several aspects. One aspect is a professional knowledge in the field. So, Ph.D. in general is, uh, uh, individual learn and know the knowledge in a very specific field in depth, right? So does this individual study and learn the knowledge necessary to pick up, become expert in the very small, not broad, small, small, specific area. That's the content of knowledge expertise. Often, we measure the student a comprehensive exam just, the student will pass it to, or take it away, or whatever. So, the second area I would be looking for, again, this a Ph.D. program, is the students research, um, area of knowledge growth. Um, did the student learn the methodologies and have the experience of conducting some research? And that does the student have experience of maybe working on the manuscript preparation. Or, a proposal um, to learn the, the, the skills as a researcher, you know, how to conduct the research literature. Uh, how to apply different theoretical framework into a research, or maybe not adapt to one because of ABC, right? So as a researchers, um, the growth, both knowledge and the practice field, um, so that's another layer. The, the, the third one, I believe it's more important is, uh, as a human being growth. This social, emotional, um, growth as a person. To be able to, um, manage all sorts of demands, such as graduate program that, you know, different coursework, teaching assignments? Um... 

KINCH: Time pressures. 

WU: Time pressure. 

KINCH: Deadlines. The, the psychology of rejection, right. You know, getting, getting told, no. You know, that you, going back to your original story about sort of realizing there's a bunch of smart people around. It's one of the hardest thing, we talk about this a lot on Confluence is that, um, we want to normalize that it's okay to have these bumpy roads, right? We want to normalize that all of us face it, you know, all of us have gotten rejection letters. And so that resilience is such an important component. 

WU: Right. And, uh, to make this, uh, the tension and challenge to be productive, right? So, I, I kind wrote down, uh, Heather Cahoon's new book. Um, the book she talked about is this concept of from her, the Native culture is suffering. Suffering often is viewed as quite negative, depressing, and so on. It also has another side, like you said, it's resilience and growing out of it, going through this process to learn more, become stronger and so on. So, so the graduate program certainly have this experience this way. It's not pleasant. Nobody wants it. And also, competitiveness, right? You compete with other people and proposal like, I got so many rejections, I could tell my students, my graduate students, you gotta grow thicker skin, it's okay, right. Often we get rejection letter. I have a grad student cry. I say, well, this is actually not too bad. 

KINCH: It's a gentle rejection. 

WU: Right. It's a gentle rejection. It's, the reviewers are quite gentle actually. She said, what? Really? I say, oh, I've seen worse. I have been hammered, down worse, right. So, how do you shift this to view the rejections and the suggestions that, that's hard to hear. Sometime you need to make a critical decision. Like, no this is, not that, this has reviewer does not even understand the context of what I was trying to say. Either I revise, make sure my context is clearer. I'm not, I'm not going to accept as a suggesting because it's not applicable to my manuscript. 

KINCH: Right. Right. Right. But, but knowing how to kind of, um, take the personal part of it out the emotional part about, and, and get back to the work is such a key point. And I, my students, um, uh, always hear this from me at some point in the, in the advising process, mentoring process, the Latin word, uh, that underpins the word passion. Uh, is patior, which means to suffer, right? And so, people who grew up in a Christian tradition hear about the passion of Christ, right. And that, so it's, it's suffering is an opportunity to reignite your motivation. It's, it's an, it's a, it's an, it's an opportunity to grow. It's an opportunity to find out, uh, what you really, what drives you, what's important to you? What are your values? You know, and keep. Keep pressing forward, right. 

WU: Right. 

KINCH: We end every episode the same way, we ask a few quick hitters. You ready for them?  

WU: Alright. 

KINCH: Okay. Morning or night person? 

WU: Night person. 

KINCH: Western or Eastern Montana. 

WU: Western. 

KINCH: Yellowstone or Glacier. 

WU: Glacier. 

KINCH: Winter or summer? 

WU: Both. I love clear four seasons. 

KINCH: You like all four? 

WU: All four. 

KINCH: Even the mud season. 

WU: Oh, yes. Yes. 

KINCH: Um, what's your favorite Montana river? 

WU: Um, the Clark Fork. 

KINCH: Why is that? 

WU: It's right here on campus. It's beautiful. We float it, we do floating. It's, you can hear birds chirping. There are willows, native willows along the river. It's beautiful. 

KINCH: Yeah. It is amazing. What's your favorite Montana mountain range? 

WU: The Missions. 

KINCH: Why is that? 

WU: It's, I speak boldly. Beautiful, solid, grounded. There's something about them. It's just, ah, magic. 

KINCH: The one piece of music you would be willing to listen to for eternity. 

WU: Um, Chinese flute. 

KINCH: Chinese flute. 

WU: It's, there's something about, uh, the instrument. And the sound is so um, mellow, I guess. 

KINCH: The last voice you hear in your head when you go to sleep at night. 

WU: Oh, depends on sometime I talk about how I, different things I appreciate. Uh, the other day I appreciate a little bird we saved, um, sometime I reflect on the day what I did well, what I did not do. Oh, so it's, it depends. 

KINCH: It's the voice in your head. It's your voice of conscience in your head. Thank you so much for joining us on Confluence, Ke. 

WU: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. 

KINCH: If you like what you've heard, you've got Charles Bolte to thank. He's a graduate of UM's program in environmental science and natural resource journalism. Confluence is brought to you by the graduate school of the University of Montana. Innovation, imagination, and intellect to serve the state, the region, and the world. We'd like to thank UM's school of journalism and college of business for their support. If you enjoyed this episode of Confluence, subscribe to our podcast feed at Apple, Google, Spotify, or Stitcher. Give us a like on SoundCloud and stop by the University of Montana grad school website at for more episodes and videos highlighting our amazing graduate students. Make sure to rate and review to support our enterprise of bringing you the voices of graduate education at the University of Montana. See you on the next float.