*Intro Music* 

Reace: Welcome back to On Magnolia Square. I’m Reace and we are here with

David Pe: David Pe.

Reace: Okay. So today I have a few questions for you and we can simply start off with our first question. Give us a brief introduction of yourself, whether that be your position and anything else you’d like to talk about.

David Pe: David Pe. I’m the Dean of students for NYU Shanghai. I’ve been with the university since the very beginning in 2012 when I moved from New York to come help set up and sort of formulate sort of what we would be doing at the new campus. Prior to that, I had worked at the New York campus for eight years. So I spent my entire career for the last 18, 19 years with NYU. Originally from California, born and raised, did my undergrad at UCLA, did my master’s at NYU, and then did my grad doctorate at University of South Southern California. Oh

Reace: Wow. So over the course of that time, since you’ve been here, how has your role from the beginning of coming to NYU versus now changed your position within the administration or just from the beginning?

David Pe: One of, I think the misnomers out there is that things change based on sort of the size and the growth. NYU Shanghai again started with its first class at 300 students and now we’re at a steady state of 2000. And so now our cohorts of students who come are 500 in each class, 250 international, 250 from China. And so now we’re sort of in, in the much more what we call steady state of, of how we operate. But in doing so, all the support services and all the things that we needed to do back in 2013 was exactly, you know, still needed now in 2023. And so, you know, we’ve had to really conceptualize how do we grow but also maintain support and sort of these areas for student needs. At the very beginning, you know, we might have focused more on, you know, the involvement piece dedicated much more of our time around community development, community building. And then as time progressed we added career development for example, and then started expanding some of our services. But from the very beginning we’ve had to really think about the student experience as a whole and making sure that we covered all aspects of the student development and sort of holistic growth and whatnot.

Reace: Within those processes and kind of working with students and dealing with administration, how do you believe your role within administration or the administration as a whole differs from how it is run in New York City or in other sections such as Abu Dhabi or London, for example,

David Pe: Student affairs as a, as a functional aspect of a university plays an important part and sort of how do we help students navigate sort of life beyond the academics? And so working with them in other sort of areas, again, the residential living experience or getting involved as a student leader or navigating some of the challenges such as, you know, visas and immigration and travel developing programs for orientation, community building, et cetera. And so the, the role has really had to focus on how do we think through all those areas and how do we think it through within the context of China. One of the differences in terms of operating outside of traditional sort of western environment is really thinking about not necessarily saying that things have to be done the US or you know, Western higher education way or Chinese higher education way, but really thinking about how NYU Shanghai plays a different role in that our population’s different, our needs are different, the whole experience is different.

David Pe: And so, you know, slowly and steadily thinking about all those areas and people change and things change. Covid impacted, you know, us greatly in terms of how students view their time and their experience. We’re now barely learning from how do we sort of navigate from that. And so, you know, I think we have to think things in a much more nuanced way of not immediately defaulting to one way of doing things, but that we think through where there’s similarities, where there’s differences where we can really make a true impact to the overall system. And when I say system, I’m talking about sort of global higher education at the large scale US Chinese relations in sort of the NYU specific Shanghai specific scale. And then within sort of general education in terms of how people see the value of higher education, especially nowadays when we’re confronted with all these new things, whether it’s AI or whether it’s sort of how one reads media and understands news to sort of what the value is of education and college now. So sort of thinking through all of those challenges that I think this generation of students will be facing. Yeah,

Reace: Most definitely. And within constructing those ideas, as you were saying before about global decisions and kind of how the world views education and within different global perspectives on education, especially being in multiple different positions, different countries, how have you seen in the past 10 years you construct your administration within NYU Shanghai? How have your leaders, whether that be vice president of NYU Shanghai president, your position or any other roles, how have you come together to kind of make NYU Shanghai unique within its administrative rules or perspectives on students?

David Pe: So speaking primarily within just student affairs work, cuz that’s the area that I oversee really thinking through how do we one mirror similarities within sort of the larger NYU system. And so the idea that we started off in 2013, 2012, you know, at the very beginning was that a student who wa came to NYU Shanghai would need to spend, you know, a couple semesters outside of Shanghai. And so when they go and show up in either New York or Abu Dhabi or any of the global sites, London, Prague, Berlin, you name it, you know, we wanted to make sure that students didn’t then feel that they didn’t know who to go seek and who to go talk to. And so you’ll pretty much see that all the support services that we have here mirror the same in the other locations. So when you’re in Shanghai, you have your RAs and when you go to New York and Abu Dhabi, you have RAs there too.

David Pe: When you think about the different offices, essentially you’ll also have the similar support functions and offices in those other campuses and global sites. So what we’ve tried to create is a navigation tool that made it easy for students to bounce from one place to the another and sort of thinking about the larger piece in terms of that, that network and system. But in terms of the other things that we’ve grown over the years, I would say that, you know, we respond to what students need. The last few years we’ve been sidetracked a little bit by Covid and so it’s limited sort of our sort of capacity to sort of expand and grow in certain areas. But for example, you know, one area that we’re really thinking about is the first generation student experience. Now we have a lot more students who are the first in their family to go to college or even if they have family members that went to some sort of college or program, it was very different back then than it is now.

David Pe: And so in sort of one light, you can kind of see that everybody coming to NYU Shanghai is going through this as their first time, but there’s also a clear need for certain students who need just extra support. And so we wanna make sure we’re, we’re focusing on that. So that’s an example where we might not have had to focus on that when we had only 300 students per class or you know, 350, however many, because students all knew each other, the faculty and the community was much more intimate in size and scope. Now that we are 2000, we have to start thinking about these niche communities that might need some more additional support areas and whatnot. And I’m using a lot of my own personal experience on what I’ve gone through. You know, I was a student after my freshman year, first year and I landed on academic probation.

David Pe: So I talked to a lot of students about the fact that, you know, we all go through these points in our development in our lives. Some people might be able to come to college and immediately jump into a research project. Some people need that extra time. And so we all have to navigate all of these different things that come to us and that we also have to reflect on our experiences. Because what we’re experiencing right now is sort of, you know, just an aspect of it, but when you actually reflect on what you experience, you’re actually able to feel the whole, the wholeness of it. And so I really encourage students to really think about sort of what are their needs, what are the things that you want the university to focus on, what do you feel is missing? And how do we then try to engage and activate that in our, our, our ecosystem here.

Reace: Yeah, most definitely within that ecosystem of helping students navigate their way through college and somewhat figure out how to work with different cultures, different people around them. How in the last 10 years have, whether it be NYU, New York or other campuses, how have their policies helped you enrich working with subcultures and different cultures within NYU and getting them to kind of cohere and become one ecosystem in order to make it NYU Shanghai as well as incorporation with other campuses?

David Pe: That’s a great question. There’s so many facets to that. I mean, when you look at just the makeup of the student body, again, if we just look at percentage, right? New York’s campus is generally 80% domestic and by domestic US 20% international, but also 20,000 students in the undergrad level. When you look at Abu Dhabi’s campus, you see that there’s not really a representation of any majority of a student because of their makeup and their representation from a lot more countries. So they have a larger subset of students where those students really need to spend time trying to build and, and engage across the culture here, you know, with our population of half Chinese. But also when you look at our Chinese students, they’re coming from all over China. And so it’s the same sort of statement. If you were to say a student who was shown up in New York City and coming from all over the US still have differences in terms of culture and habits and things that are, are different, right?

David Pe: And so all those things are, are, are taken into really account then in Shanghai specifically, we have our, again, half of our Chinese students and then half of the students coming from the rest of the world. In each of the cohorts, I recall, we at least have about 40 countries represented in each of those classes. And so you then need to really engage in terms of how does one understand and perceive and do things. How does one do things in their culture that others might in their own culture be similar or different? And how do you, before making an assumption actually talk through those differences so that you can understand from their perspective what they’re going through and what they’re experiencing. And so I think when you, really see NYU as this system that is able to give and offer different types of experiences.

David Pe: So if you go to any of those campuses, you’ll feel that within just the general daily and the more visible surface level stuff, right? And when I say that, I mean just when people walk around campus or in a quad or something, you kind of can count how many people you see based on sort of how you understand that person’s identity to be. And so, but overall, I mean, you know, we’re, built within the idea of being a part of the city in and of the city. Lots of similarities in terms of those things. So I would say that we’re all committed to really giving students this real global experience, whether you’re in New York, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, or any of the global sites. I think that’s what makes NYU unique. And we’re also constantly changing. You know, one of the reasons why I’ve been with NYU for 18 years now is because I’ve never done the same job every single year.

David Pe: Every year there’s always something new that’s happening that’s making me rethink how I do my work. And so when I look at even just the last four years, I mean, you know, it was consumed largely by all the covid pieces, but even how that was managed was very different in all these different places and stuff and how people perceive that. So it’s really about willing to sit down, reflect and think about why certain things happen in a certain place, why things are different. So really keeping your mind open about how you think through, you know, what the potentials might be rather than making an assumption that things should be done in sort of your, your own way.

Reace: Yeah, most definitely. And I think that we all see here that it’s very regulated for multiple different diverse groups and it works well for many groups and there’s definitely always room for improvement, but there’s also a lot of great attributes for every single minority majority, so on and so forth. So on that note, I have asked every prepared question, is there anything else you’d like to expand on or talk about or kind of just put out some personal experiences?

David Pe: I think, you know, the last 10 years NYU Shanghai has been focusing on developing sort of its footprint and its under, its its level of excellence as you would use, as a framework in higher education. Really proving that this experiment can work. You know, as NYU Shanghai grows the next 10 years is really focusing again on how do we enhance and contribute to the research, to the scholarship of the world and sort of what’s needed now. And so I’m excited, I think all of the students who are here right now, those that are just started as first years, you’ll start to see a huge difference in the next four years of your, your time here. You know, again, we saw that at the very beginning. You know, our first few cohorts of students, COVID, put a pause on that, now we’re restarting again. So whether you’re class of 2026 or our new incoming class of 27’ or previous classes, currently 25’, 23’, 24’, wherever, I think it’s, you’re, you’ll be proud to see the growth of NYU Shanghai and I think that’s represented today. You know, sitting in this really cool room, doing this podcast with you all looking straight into our, our courtyard and being on a real true campus. I think that’s a testament to China’s commitment to NYU Shanghai, and to this project and NYU’s commitment to really making a difference as well. So thank you. Yeah,

Reace: Of course. Thank you for coming.

*Outro Music*