Assistant Professor of the Division of Business and Management, Dr Rita Chan, won the President’s Award for Teaching and Service for Academic Staff (2016-2017). She is dedicated to every job she does, always seeking improvement and ready for changes.

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Dr Rita Chan (4th from left) with her students

Imagine you are one of the very few female employees working in a predominantly male company in Hong Kong in the early 1990s, common among many businesses at that time. Your business is undergoing a transformation from being government funded to becoming a private corporation. You and your corporate training team are given the task to change the work culture from a slow-moving relaxed mentality into a respectful, profit-driven workforce valuing customer care.

What would you do?

It was a remarkable accomplishment for Dr Rita Chan, always poised to deliver quality work driven towards success. During most of her corporate career in human resource management, she played the role of the change agent. In order to constantly generate excellent performance and results, change was the motto of her work.

“The first thing we introduced was customer care,” Rita explains. “The key point is to get their trust and build your credibility.” Since old-fashioned workers would not have listened to a direct order for ‘change’, Rita chose another approach.

“An easy way is to help them first: once they find you helpful, they will listen to you.” Avoid a lecturing style, Rita advises. “I went down to the workshop and talked to them individually. I used team-building techniques, putting them in the shoes of customers. It was a very enjoyable experience. I made a lot of friends.”

Rita believes that because the external environment is always changing, you should adapt to new changes and prepare your people for them.

After an impressive corporate career, Rita started a new adventure at UIC in September 2009 as Assistant Professor of the Management of Human Resources Programme. Bringing along with her a valuable legacy of practical success, her philosophy follows her through her current teaching profession.

However, assimilating into her new job seamlessly does not mean turning a blind eye to potential areas of improvement in academia itself. Rita has found it a huge disadvantage that there are insufficient numbers of decent and relevant textbooks available on the market. As students have no work experience yet under their belts, they must learn vicariously through HR management cases; Rita has, after going through the archives herself, realised that second-hand learning is simply not enough.

“I design courses in ways to engage students as active participants in their own human development experience,” Rita elaborates. One of her teaching activities involves her students forming groups on their own to work on scenarios, such as company departments, to compete for certain results. The group members, upon completing their projects, then meet and review each other’s performance. “They should work out how to talk to each other whilst remaining a happy group,” Rita adds, “so they experience how to find out the right things instead of focusing on the wrong things.”

At the end of the activity, she gives them a form to appraise the performance of individual team members. “When they give comments, they are supervisors,” Rita points out, “and when they receive the form, they are the employees. They learn at both ends.”

It has become a habit for Rita to search for cases and HR examples to renew her collection of teaching materials to match a constantly changing and dynamic business world. She also devotes time to counselling students beyond the classroom, making use of every possible opportunity to guide them through their academic lives and make the most out of their time at university. Thanks to her dedication and commitment, she was awarded the President’s Award for Teaching and Service for Academic Staff (2016-2017).

Apart from her professorial responsibilities, Rita is a dedicated fan of Cantonese Opera. When she was a little girl, her parents used to bring her to watch opera performances in traditional bamboo theatres. Fascinated at first sight by this operatic style, Rita has developed a deep interest in it.

One of the artists she adores is a renowned playwright Tang Ti-Sheng, who grew up in Zhuhai’s Tangjiawan and composed innovative pieces of music as well as dramatic stories for this traditional opera. Rita heaps praise on the literary merit of his plays, yet unfortunately, the existing translations do not seem to convey the messages with elegance. Rita confidently declares, “I dream of translating Tang’s works from Chinese to English in a precise way in the future.”

There is no doubt that her attention to quality will push her to realise this ambitious dream.

No matter where she goes, she is making changes again.

Written by Deen He
(republished from Issue 4 of UIC magazine New Dimensions)