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TECS alumna built community, real-world skills in 3+X program

Yi Ding speaking to a group.

Every semester students travel from across the country, and the world, to study at the Wilson College of Textiles. Thirteen years ago Yi Ding, an associate professor in the department of textile design and industrial economics at Donghua University in China, was one of those students.

“I love textiles,” Ding says. “And it was always my dream to study abroad.”

It was this dream that brought Ding — who earned both an M.S. in Textile Chemistry and a Ph.D. in Fiber and Polymer Science from the Wilson College of Textiles — 12,000 miles from Shanghai to Raleigh as a part of the 3+X program, a cooperative program between NC State and 14 universities across China. 

Ding (center) with her advisors Associate Professor Lisa Chapman and Professor Emeritus Harold Freeman at her commencement ceremony.

“My professor introduced the 3+X program to me when I was an undergraduate student in China,” Ding says. 

Students in the 3+X program complete the last semester of their home university’s undergraduate degree at NC State. During this semester students in the program are enrolled in graduate level courses. They also take GTI 401: U.S. Culture and Education Colloquium, which connects them with other international students, develops student success skills and offers an overview of U.S. culture and higher education. After they complete this semester, students transition into their master’s program, which can be completed in an additional year.

Building connections

At NC State, Ding found a community of students, staff and faculty whose support and encouragement led her not only through her master’s program, but also to her decision to remain at the Wilson College and pursue her Ph.D. 

Associate Professor Lisa Chapman threw a party for Yi Ding before she returned to China.

“The college is quite welcoming,” Ding says. “My supervisors are super nice people. We often had group lunches and dinners. They kept up with our lives a lot. We also celebrated birthdays together. My labmates were from many countries and we became lifelong friends.”

Ding became involved with the Office of International Services, serving as an orientation leader for other international students and helping them adjust to a new country. 

“Every year we helped international students to settle down and organize the orientation events,” Ding explains. “It was a great memory, which helped me build leadership skills and get to know more friends.”

Ding and other Office of International Services orientation leaders.

Gaining real-world experience

Ding’s time at the college helped her grow more than just a community; it also helped her build transferable skills and experiences she was able to carry with her as she progressed in her career.

During her Ph.D. Ding had the chance to work with Walmart through their U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund, an opportunity she says pushed her to deepen her knowledge of various aspects of textiles, as well as develop completely new skills. Through the fund — which focuses on developing cost-effective and efficient domestic manufacturing — Ding worked on digital printing for outdoor textiles. She collaborated with professionals from across the industry, from startups innovating the digital printing process, to established leaders in traditional printing.

“It was not only lab work, it required me to understand textile materials, chemistry, computer science and textile design,” Ding explains.

She continued to challenge herself throughout her Ph.D., taking advantage of opportunities to visit different companies within the textile industry and to assist labs at the college with tackling real-world problems. 

“While that work was not always 100% related to my dissertation, it gave me the opportunity to really make contributions to the textile industry,” Ding says. “I am so proud of this experience, and I am still doing research in this area in China.”

After receiving her Ph.D. in 2016, Ding stayed with the college, working as a postdoctoral research assistant and continuing her work on digital printing. In 2018 she accepted a position as a lecturer at the Donghua University College of Textiles.

“I teach textile color management and textile supply chain management,” Ding says. “I am also continuing my research on textile digital printing.”

As part of her work, Ding mentors a number of graduate and undergraduate students, something she says her time at the college prepared her for.

“I supervise a few graduate students in China now,” Ding says. “It always reminds me of my experience at NC State, always being open, accepting different opinions and creating interesting ideas.”

This post was originally published in Wilson College of Textiles News.