No one succeeds alone and no business succeeds alone. As an unwanted girl growing up in China, Jianping Wang learned this early in life.
In an upcoming talk titled “The Power of Asking for Help,” Wang will share the lessons she has learned starting with her school days during Chairman Mao’s era to her higher education pursuits as a young woman in China and the U.S., and her early career days leading to her current role as president of Mercer County Community College (MCCC). She will also share insights on how to ask for help if the thought of asking makes you feel uncomfortable.
Sponsored by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, and part of the monthly membership luncheon series, Wang’s talk takes place Thursday, September 8; 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Princeton Marriott. Register by phone, 609-924-1776, or online at www.princetonchamber.org/events. Cost: $50; nonmembers, $70.
People often think that asking for help is a sign of inferiority or implies that you aren’t very smart. But Wang disagrees. When you ask for guidance or assistance, you’re not saying you’re stupid, you’re saying that you lack knowledge or experience in a particular area and you value the expertise of the person you are asking.
Wang suggests that one way to ask people for help is to say that you’ve been thinking about the topic and have some ideas but are hoping that they might have some ideas you hadn’t thought of, and perhaps they could share some of their success stories with you.
Of course, your likelihood of reaching your goals takes more than getting help from others. Wang credits her curiosity, desire, and commitment as keys to her successes. But in every example, she comes back to her willingness to ask for help and the mentors who opened seemingly locked doors by sharing what they knew.
One of those doors opened when she was a young school girl and asked a teacher to explain a program she had discovered on her transistor radio. The program, the teacher told her, was “Voice of America.” After learning it was broadcast in English, she asked how she could learn the language.
The teacher showed her an English text book, and offered to lend it to her so she could copy its content. But young Wang could not afford to buy paper and was afraid to ask her father, a factory worker who was not supportive of her ambitions and love of learning. But being a resourceful person, Wang created her own paper by collecting empty cigarette cartons, turning them inside out and stitching them together. Before long, she had the needed material and was able to copy the entire book.
By the time she reached high school, China’s education restrictions had eased somewhat and English was being taught in school. Because Wang had been studying since grade school, she became a student teacher and was able to help others.
Another big opening came when she asked to be transferred to Beijing University where she wanted to earn her master’s degree and be at the same school as her fiance. After the school authorities turned her down, a senior faculty member volunteered to help her make her case to the school president. The president listened and after some discussion, agreed. Wang took and passed the graduate exam within a few months and was accepted at Beijing.
While at the university, Wang’s then husband was transferred to a university in the U.S. Wang stayed on and became a leader in the movement that would eventually lead to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and subsequent violent crackdown by the Chinese government. Before that fateful event, Wang’s friends surmised that she could be in serious trouble with authorities. She decided to leave the country, and because her husband was already in the U.S., she was able to move here.
Once in the U.S., another door opened for Wang while she was planning for graduate school and working at McDonalds for less than $5 an hour in 1989. She had decided to apply to 10 schools but did not have the money for the application fees, which would have totaled $750. She appealed to each of the schools asking to have the fee waived. Out of the group, one, Harvard, agreed. She applied and went on to earn a masters of education in 1993 and eventually earned a doctorate from Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, in 2007.
The opening that introduced Wang to the value of community colleges occurred when she asked a college president about her vision on education. While at Harvard she met visiting professor, Grace Brown, the new president of Roxbury Community College. Impressed with Brown’s commitment to educating students from diverse backgrounds, Wang asked the president if she could interview her for a class paper. Brown accepted the request and after a few meetings, offered Wang a job as a special assistant to the president.
Wang was put in charge of shared governance and accreditation where one of her accomplishments was getting Roxbury 10 years of accreditation. She was later promoted to a directorial role in research and effectiveness.
After five years at Roxbury, Wang moved to SUNY Westchester Community College, Valhalla, New York, as the division dean of arts and humanities. In 2012 she accepted a position at Ocean County College, Toms River, where she served as of vice president of academic affairs. She became president of MCCC in May, 2015. Wang expressed her love for community college education in a U.S.1 interview published August 12, 2015:
“It’s a democratic institution. It doesn’t look at where you came from. You could come from nowhere, and we embrace you equally. We are committed to help everyone. That very personally speaks to me, because I came from very little and I received a lot of help from people in China and here, and now I’m in a position to pay back and empower others.”
Since then MCCC has further developed its credit and non-credit programs, plus its services and courses for new and existing business owners, and is expanding its workforce development initiatives and community/business partnerships. The school’s current strategic plan, posted on the MCCC website, extends to 2021.
Wang’s experience has shown her that collaboration and teamwork in one’s career and education is not just a nicety, it is a necessity. “In America we have a long tradition of individualism. That was good to get us where we are today. But in this very global economy, we need to change our perspective. When people share ideas with one another, it advances them as individuals and it advances their field,” Wang says. “It is the right thing for yourself, your business, and your country.”