Kathy Lou’s role as academic advisor requires her to constantly talk one-on-one with students in need. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Her favorite part of being an advisor is “just talking and more importantly relating to students because every student has a different situation, and it’s like fitting different pieces into a jigsaw puzzle.”
Lou has been an academic advisor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Sociology Department for almost 20 years now.
When working on her business degree in management at Baruch College in New York, a college within the City University of New York system, Lou always enjoyed working with people, which is one of the main reasons she decided to pursue a business degree.
Both of Lou’s parents worked hard to provide for their family—working in manual labor jobs in New York City’s Chinatown. She was the first woman in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree.
“I felt that as long as my job involved working with people, I will enjoy my job,” she said.
After college, Lou ended up working for Wall Street as the person in charge of posting the stock market closings. She admits, however, that the money business was a hectic pace for her. She eventually left the job, married and moved out of the city.
Lou’s husband, who was working as a chemical engineer, needed to move to Athens for work, and Lou quickly found a job at UGA.
“I figured that I’d be working with students, and I thought ‘How cool is that?’ ” she said. “At first I was only working with graduate students, but then I went on to work with undergraduates, so it’s been really fun and every day is something new.”
Lou wasn’t always so confident when talking to people, however. As a child, she lived in Hong Kong. Her family moved to New York City when she was just 7 years old.
“It was a big cultural change,” Lou said. “I didn’t know English when I came here.
My aunt was trying to teach me the ABCs, and I didn’t understand why I had to learn them. It was very hard.”
During Lou’s first few years in New York, a lot changed for her, including her name. It wasn’t always Kathy.
In elementary school, her Chinese name was Bet Tuey Lee. Lou soon realized that to completely fit into American culture, she’d need a name that would fit in as well.
Bet Tuey was difficult to pronounce, and she wanted her own American name.
“As a sixth grade student, I didn’t know many names,” said Lou, who knew she wanted a name that ended in a “y” but was having trouble thinking of one. Her sister soon suggested “Kathy,” and Lou took her new American name to school with her the next day.
Eventually, she went through the naturalization citizenship process, and Kathy became her legal name.
Coming to America was tough, and it has since helped Lou to effectively communicate with all students.
“I fully empathize with the international students that I advise, and I always share my difficult experience with them,” she said. “They appreciate it because I think they don’t feel so alone.”
Part of her job, Lou said, is to “lend an ear.” Part of that often lets her draw from her own experiences when advising students.
“My job is to get students to graduate,” Lou said, “but along the way, we enjoy a sort of journey together. Each student is different, and I enjoy the opportunity to steer them in the right direction.”
Lou plans to work as an academic advisor for as long as she is able.
“I just want to keep going,” she says. “I’ve never thought about not coming to work. I love it that much.”
The power of empathy truly has no bounds. UGA academic advisors are some of the most important staff members on campus and here's a fresh example why. Our thanks to Sydney Devine, graduate assistant in the office of public affairs, for sharing this profile of Kathy Lou.
Image: Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski