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International graduate overcomes challenges to excel at UW-Stevens Point

December 21, 2023
Yulong Tang graduated from UW-Stevens Point in December, excelling in her studies despite the challenges brought by language barriers and COVID-19.
Yulong Tang graduated from UW-Stevens Point in December, excelling in her studies despite the challenges brought by language barriers and COVID-19.

When Yulong Tang arrived in Stevens Point in January 2019, she did not speak any English.

A native of Inner Mongolia, China, Tang had heard of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point from her mother. Her first course at UW-Stevens Point was through the English as a Second Language program. Six months later, the program closed, so she moved to Madison to complete it.

With one year of English language instruction, Tang enrolled at UW-Stevens Point in January 2020. This December she graduates summa cum laude with a double major in math and data analytics and minors in business administration and business economics. She was also honored with a Chancellor’s Leadership Award.

“The beginning was difficult.” said Tang. “It was challenging to make friends, and my English skills were not great. I had never been alone in another country, and I had to learn a lot. In China, we live in large familial communities that guide and protect us. The American culture is more individualistic, which was hard for me.”

Eventually she found a home with the International Student Ministry, a Christian fellowship group, where she made friends and got involved in activities and learned about American cultural traditions like Thanksgiving. 

The 2020 pandemic brought additional obstacles.

“All the students went home, but I could not go back to China because of COVID. I had nowhere to go, and I was depressed,” said Tang. Fortunately, a friend’s mother owned a mobile home in Stevens Point, so she moved there with two friends. 

“The good thing was that we could cook our own food. I struggled with the food on campus because it was so different than what I was used to. I ate vegetable salad every day,” she laughed.

Despite her challenges, Tang excelled academically at UWSP. In addition to receiving the Pointer Merit Scholarship for eight semesters and making the Dean’s Honor Roll in both the College of Professional Studies and the College of Letters and Science for eight semesters, she also received numerous other scholarships through the Sentry School of Business and Economics and the School of Mathematics, Computing, Physics and Astronomy.

“Yulong has a very analytical and inquisitive mind; she approaches each task with precision and curiosity,” said Professor Kurt Pflughoeft, Sentry Insurance Endowed Chair of Computational Analytics in the Sentry School of Business and Economics. “These traits will serve her well as a data analyst. As her professor, each class with Yulong brings an air of anticipation: What challenging question will she pose next? These questions elevate the discussions in the classroom amongst her peers, which I deeply appreciate.”

Yulong Tang
Yulong Tang

Associate Professor Sujana Kabiraj, who taught Tang in three economics courses, had a similar observation. “Yulong has always been one of the most curious students in her cohort. She not only asks relevant questions, but she is also extraordinarily perceptive in the discussions.”

Tang held various jobs at UWSP over the course of her education. She spent six months in the Division of Marketing and Enrollment, analyzing data related to potential new master’s programs that the university was considering. She collected data from various sources, designed surveys for different audience groups and analyzed results. She also had to present her findings and recommendations to the leadership. 

Laura Bell, associate chief marketing and enrollment officer, praised Tang’s work ethic and analytical skills. “She was integral in successfully analyzing a large-scale, campus-wide project focused on distance education funding that was ultimately presented to the chancellor for decision making,” Bell said. 

Her second job is in the College of Professional Studies (CPS) Dean’s office, where she works about 15 hours a week on high-level data analytics projects. She has conducted analyses of professor salaries, program costs and program budgets.

“I love this job because the work is meaningful, and the entire staff is great. They always put students first and work to make the student experience in CPS better,” said Tang.

“Yulong is brave, determined to do her best, and takes advantage of every opportunity to learn,” said CPS Dean Rebecca Sommer. “The qualities that make Yulong such a successful student will serve her well throughout her lifetime. I’m certain she will go on to achieve great things.”

Tang hopes to find a job in the United States as an actuary or in data analytics. She’s been actively looking, but restrictions on her student visa make it challenging. She is allowed to work up to three years, but then the company will need to sponsor her to continue working, and not all companies have the capacity to do that.

“I got to go home to China for the first time in 2023,” said Tang. “My parents are very proud of me and have encouraged me to stay in the U.S. if I can find work. I am optimistic that something will work out. I have had a great education and good work experience and I want to add value wherever I can.”