Faces of UMSI: Teng Ye

Teng Ye hadn’t planned on pursuing a PhD abroad, even though she had known about the University of Michigan since her undergraduate days. She received her degree in management information systems from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, where she was first in her class. Her alma mater is home to the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute, a partnership dedicated to global engineering education and research. It was an internship in China that piqued her interest in the field of virtual collaboration.

“I’m very curious about the differences between offline and online communities,” she says. “In a close-knit neighborhood, people are happy to share, for example, kids’ clothes, but in online communities, there are obstacles to sharing. Whether these are cultural differences or the time differences, I’m interested in how people are motivated to come to an online community and then stay and participate in that community.”

Teng solidified her decision to enter the UMSI PhD program after attending Visiting Days at the school. “My campus visit, the school environment and all the events firmly oriented me to the school.” She recalls how the advisors came across as talented, supportive and open to ideas. “I remember thinking, ‘If I end up here, I will be productive and happy.’” She entered the doctoral program in 2014.

One of Teng’s favorite aspects of the PhD program has been the teaching component. (All doctoral students must complete two semesters of teaching.) “As a T.A. at UMSI, you’re not only grading papers. You’re teaching in a field where you don’t necessarily have a lot of knowledge — and that’s how you begin to grow.”

For instance, she taught a class in human-computer interaction (HCI), a field she previously knew little about. “I would facilitate discussions before lectures. I would help introduce students to new concepts. As a T.A., when you prepare the class, you develop a better sense of the material — and this is the process that prepares you for the future.”

Teng also appreciates the current of diversity running through the program. In the beginning, she was worried about the language differences, but everyone she met put her at ease. Teng says, “I truly believe people from any background would feel comfortable here.”

Her research centers on virtual collaboration, the sharing economy, and crowdsourcing using both an experimental approach and the machine learning method. She is constantly asking questions, such as: “how are people’s behaviors altered when they engage in teamwork online? What motivates people to be more creative? What triggers better performance?”

Her mentor in these topics is her advisor Lionel Robert. “I felt he had done what I was doing. He started with the business background and then he became focused on the study of teams in virtual communities.”

Teng has grown very fond of Ann Arbor. “The entire city feels energetic,” she said. “Everyone is so friendly. The people are so educated. There’s always a social cultural event to attend.” Even with the challenging Michigan winters, she’s happy here. “That first winter here, I definitely needed a better coat,” Teng laughs as she remembers it.

She might be nearly 7,000 miles from China but she finds many ways to stay connected to her roots. “I Facetime with my family often. I’m very interested in traditional Chinese exercise, like tai chi, and activities, like Chinese diabolo juggling and table tennis.”