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A “Coach” At Heart, Yingjiao Xu’s Lasting Impact on Students, Alumni, Colleagues Earns Her Accolades

Yingjiao Xu stands in front of a textile wall hanging. A wall of windows is to her left and grey, carpeted stairs are to her right.

By Sean Cudahy

Collaboration is at the heart of Professor Yingjiao Xu’s philosophy, honed over a more than two-decade teaching career. An expert in consumer behaviors toward innovations in fashion retailing, she uses a poignant metaphor to describe her role guiding research and coursework.

“I see myself as a coach: a motivator, a supporter, to help my students grasp the independent thinking skills….the research skills,” she says.

It’s a philosophy that’s served her well.

In the 13 years since she arrived at the Wilson College of Textiles following a decade at Ohio University, Xu has garnered a reputation as a “consistent, quiet, and pragmatic leader,” according to one of her colleagues — a leader with “steady dedication” to her role in the Department of Textiles and Apparel, Technology and Management, and as director of Ph.D. graduate programs.

In additional recent testimonials, some half-dozen former students used words like “engaging,” “inspiring” and “mentor” to describe Xu — accolades that ultimately helped propel her to be one of four recipients of the 2023 Alumni Association Distinguished Graduate Professorship. The award recognizes outstanding graduate-level teaching at NC State University.

Asked what she believes earned her this recognition, Xu speaks of the independence she aims to foster by challenging student researchers to voice opinions, while providing encouragement and feedback along the way.

“When they graduate, my goal is for them to become independent faculty members; independent researchers,” she says. “When they first come, they’re kind of new, but when they graduate, they are so independent.”

The results she’s helped drive are undeniable.

Just ask Wilson College of Textiles alumna Li Li ‘14, who today is a manager at the electric vehicle giant Tesla.

In a letter supporting Xu’s nomination for the award, Li spoke of Xu’s ability to connect theoretical discussion to real-world examples. Nearly a decade later, Li wrote, she still uses a systemic method Xu taught during a course on market research of textile commodities in her own career.

And yet, Li says, “She had a much bigger impact on me beyond what she taught me in class,” noting that Xu’s professional mentorship helped give her the confidence to manage direct reports on a team overseeing the supply chain for Tesla’s vehicle interiors and seats.

Fellow Wilson College of Textiles alumna Hanna Lee likewise credits Xu’s guidance with preparing her for a career as assistant professor in the University of South Carolina’s Department of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management.

“Dr. Xu has given me valuable advice and resources to help me discover my true potential as a teacher and researcher,” she wrote in her own letter of support, noting Xu’s lessons in productivity have helped her publish eight manuscripts since they met in 2017.

That effectiveness in helping students succeed is a key reason Xu is the “choice mentor” for students with interest in consumer behavior and global marketing, wrote Wilson College of Textiles Professor Marguerite Moore, while noting Xu’s leadership has also helped boost enrollment and broaden the scope of the university’s master’s programs through partnerships with international universities.

Still, she says, “Dr. Xu is a modest individual who rarely mentions her accomplishments.”

That much is clear.

“I feel so honored, and at the same time, it was a very humbling experience,” Xu says of these accolades.

Among her proudest achievements, though, she says, is the personal perspective she’s been able lend to a diverse student body —  a product of her own personal journey.

After graduating from Donghua University in China with her bachelor’s in textiles and then Renmin University of China with a master’s in textile, apparel and merchandising, Xu moved to the U.S. to pursue her Ph.D in Textiles, at Louisiana State University (while picking up a master’s in applied statistics along the way).

“I think, being an international student a long time ago, I can appreciate their situation, their perspectives,” she says. “So I feel honored to have this opportunity to work with a very diverse student body.”

Indeed, whether it’s personal or professional, coursework or research, for Xu, it all comes back to this point of view: “I treat our students as our future colleagues and future professionals.”