Kelly Pistilli

Academic Advisor in
Krannert School of Management

Kelly Pistilli's passion for helping students find academic success has prompted her to delve into the culture of a country halfway across the world.

In an effort to better mentor and guide Krannert's students from China, Pistilli, an academic advisor in Krannert School of Management, has begun examining the finer points of the Asian country's culture and higher education system. Because 82 of the 312 students she'll advise this fall hail from China, her strategy has begun to pay dividends in myriad ways.

Kelly Pistilli

When did it become apparent that researching Chinese culture would help you do your job?

I've been an academic advisor in the School of Management for six years now, and recently it's become clear that more and more of our students are coming to Purdue from China. For example, right now 26 percent of the school's enrolled students are Chinese. These students are coming from a very different background and culture from our domestic students -- I realized that to help them most effectively, I should learn more about what makes them tick.

To start that process, I began talking with Chinese professors here on campus. I've also developed some very strong relationships with some of our junior and senior Chinese students, and I often take time to sit and talk with them about their experiences and those of their fellow classmates. Those conversations have given me a great deal of insight about the Chinese culture and about Chinese students' shared experiences. Further, in October, I attended the National Academic Advising Association's conference, where I attended a presentation about the higher education system in China. The more I learned about the system, the more some of my previous experiences with Chinese students started to make more sense.

What are some of the special challenges Chinese students face when coming to Purdue?

I've learned that many Chinese students, by American standards, might be considered first-generation college students. That, combined with being immersed in a very different culture here at Purdue, often prompts Chinese students to have a lot of questions. Knowing that has allowed me to be very patient with Chinese students and to encourage them to get all of their questions -- even the smallest ones -- answered in ways they can understand.

I've also learned that, in the Chinese higher education system, there is really no such thing as failure. Concepts such as dropping classes, being on academic probation and getting bad grades do not exist in Chinese higher education. So when a Chinese student experiences something like that here, it doesn't make sense to them and they don't understand why it's happening. They expect to be given another shot.

I've found that when helping Chinese students and other international students, it's key to be patient and not to get frustrated about an experience that might reflect a cultural disconnect. To me, it's important to keep in mind that these students are studying in a country and within a culture that is very different than their own, and that it can be isolating sometimes. I want to help them get through that in any way I can.

How have you helped pass on your knowledge to other academic advisors at Purdue?

In February, I gave a presentation to the Purdue Academic Advising Association about some of the things I've learned. Personally, though, I feel like I've just scratched the surface of this topic. I'm continuing to learn more from my Chinese students — my next goal is to learn some Mandarin phrases, both because it's a personal interest and because I know it will help my Chinese students feel more at home. I also hope to travel to China sometime soon in order to gain a deeper appreciation for the culture.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Frankly, it's most enjoyable when I get to sit down and talk with students about life -- not just about what classes they're taking, but about what's going on with them in their lives.

Every student who walks through my door has the potential to do great things. I try to focus on providing exactly the right guidance at the right time for each student -- I want to be their resource and the rock that they lean on for support. If after their time with me they're better prepared for life beyond college, then I've done my job.