Cendana College

May-yi Shaw

Assistant Dean

Born in the U.S. and grew up in Taiwan, I was raised in an “ultra serious” family where our dinner conversations always centered around “heavy” topics such as the spirit of the May Fourth Movement in modern China, or my grandparents’ hard-lived experiences of constant flights during the Chinese civil war. Naturally, I was infused with the belief that the meaning of one’s existence is to “save the country” or “serve the people”.

But college was a time when many things “fell brilliantly apart”, as professors and peers from diverse backgrounds came to challenge my previous teachings or beliefs. I discovered that I no longer needed to attach myself to a particular “country” or “people”; rather, as a global citizen/nomad, I could aim to “serve the people” across many national, cultural, and value-system boundaries.

As such, much of my adulthood is spent on both the physical and mental act of “boundary crossing”. Academically, I crossed the “disciplinary boundary” and immersed happily in the study of social science and humanities – earning a BA degree in Political Science and East Asian Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, followed by a PhD degree in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University. At the start of my career, I crossed the “academic/educator boundary” and made the deliberate choice to pursue the path of a teaching faculty in Greater China. During my 3 years at Shanghai Jiaotong University and 7 years in the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), I taught courses on modern China and East Asia with a comparative perspective. My “Identity Goes Global” course won the HKUST Common Core Course Excellence Award in 2014; I also became the sole HKUST nominee for the UGC Teaching Award (Early Career Faculty Members) in 2016.

Besides teaching, I have crossed the “faculty/administrator boundary” and ventured into student services. I directed several MA programs in China studies with a strong emphasis on student development. I also worked closely with the University Council Members to spearhead a career enhancement program for 1st– and 2nd-year students. As a Residence Master of one of the student halls on campus, I even “enlisted” our family dog Gohan to provide mingling sessions for students as a new wellness initiative!

As a very busy mother of two toddlers, every day I continue to cross the border among the various domains in life – as a professor, administrator, mother, and wife. I can’t say I have mastered the balancing act very well, but I am excited to further this journey in Singapore with the Yale-NUS community!

Advice for Students

Before you graduate, make sure you have done some of the following at least ONCE –
• Fall in love (even if it means ending in a breakup)
• Develop friendships that will last for a lifetime
• Enjoy a good, long book from the bottom of your heart
• Have deep conversations about the purpose/meaning of life
• Find the take-home message from a course that will stay with you 10 years down the road
• Serve the college community or beyond in a non-academic capacity
• Take a totally “wacky” course
• Ask someone to be your mentor/life coach

The rest – you’ll realize – won’t matter as much!

Fun Fact

I have had 21 postal address change in the past 22 years … I believe I could become a “professional packer” as a second career option!

Contact with questions about Cendana College.