Dr. Jianchu Yao is college’s associate dean for academic affairs

Dr. Jianchu (Jason) Yao was an integral part of the past of the College of Engineering and Technology at East Carolina University. Now, he is planning for its future.

Yao begins the fall semester in a new role as the college’s associate dean for academic affairs. Dr. Leslie Pagliari, the previous associate dean, decided to move back to full-time teaching in the Department of Technology Systems.

Yao came to ECU in 2005 as the college’s engineering program began.

“The opportunity of creating a new department definitely excited me,” he said.

Dr. Jason Yao said he would stress student success as the new associate dean for the College of Engineering and Technology.

In his 15 years at ECU, the native of Hunan, China, has developed and taught more than 10 engineering courses such as circuits, electronics, instrumentation and controls. His research has focused on wireless and wearable medical sensors, sensor networks, telemedicine and industrial process monitoring and control. Yao has also focused on the integration of research into undergraduate education and the development of electronic learning tools for future engineering education.

He describes his 15 years working at ECU as a “great experience” because of the students, staff and faculty.

“We grow together, professionally and as human beings,” said Yao, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Shannxi University of Science and Technology in China and a doctorate in electrical engineering from Kansas State.

As for his new role in the college, Yao embraces the college’s goals, placing student success at the top. He said he wants to continue to build the Student Success Center, which includes everything from personalized advising and professional development to peer coaching and mentorship.

“We will guarantee our students receive the needed advising,” Yao said. “We will strengthen their identity as future engineers, technicians, computer programmers and construction managers. We will build a strong sense of CET community via social events, professional development opportunities and industrial/alumni involvement. First-year students will receive additional guidance and coaching to maximize their chances of college success.”

He added that students need to take responsibility for their educations through one simple task.

“Whenever you have a question, regardless what it is about, ask. This is the No. 1 advice I gave to my 18-year-old daughter,” Yao said. “I learned this in a hard way. While I was a student, I was so shy and didn’t want to ask questions. I later had to re-learn a great deal by myself. I don’t want anyone to repeat this.”

As for the college’s faculty and staff, Yao said his goal is to create “a positive and collaborative working environment that encourages individual growth and development” through a young faculty development program, technology training and social events.

That started this summer as Yao organized a series of online training sessions and seminars designed to help faculty adjust to block scheduling and virtual instruction.

“I personally believe those sessions were super important and very helpful,” Yao said. “The pandemic circumstance is something none of us had experienced before. It caused anxiety, stress, fear and desperation. The sessions told our faculty who experience those negative feelings, ‘Hey, you are not alone. We are going through this together.’ Secondly, through those session discussions, faculty gained many skills to teach and support students in this new environment that requires social distancing and masks. Both of these, I believe, increased the level of confidence when our faculty started their teaching in the fall.”

Of course, all of his goals come amid the coronavirus pandemic, adding a degree of difficulty, but according to Yao, also opportunities.

“We need to meet and talk to people in order to build a community, yet to protect one another from the COVID-19 virus infection, we must minimize interaction among people. The two apparently contradict,” he said. “Doing things virtually is a new survival skill. We will take advantage of the internet to achieve our goals. On the bright side, I believe the remote-collaboration skills students learned from virtual programs we develop will benefit their future careers, as the world is for sure moving toward that.” 

On a day-to-day basis, Yao will focus on administrative needs of the college, such as course scheduling, space planning and curriculum improvements. He’ll also help oversee required assessments for regional and national accreditation of programs, which will go a long way toward building the future of the college.

“We live in a very interesting world. Many things — technologies, economy, demography and even global relations — change so rapidly,” Yao said. “Higher education faces many challenges. As a college, we need to proactively prepare and position ourselves for the future. I’m excited to be part of the team to navigate through all the changes and uncertainties.”

Dr. Harry Ploehn, dean of the College of Engineering and Technology, said Yao has a passion for seeing students succeed.

“I’m delighted to have Dr. Yao ‘aboard ship’ in this key leadership position,” Ploehn said. “Academic affairs are at the core of our mission and the reason why students come to a university. Dr. Yao’s deep commitment to student success, continuous improvement and academic excellence make him ideal for this position. We’re all thrilled to have him on the college’s leadership team.”