From Singapore to Cincinnati: UC guides grad to success

Communication skills help alumna connect faculty, staff and students

By Tawney Beans

A young man walks into a crowded mess hall and sits down at an empty table. His hands are sweaty and folded in front of him. With shifting eyes and one rapidly tapping foot, he’s telling a story that only those who understand non-verbal communication can see.

A desire to learn these unspoken and unwritten stories is one reason Hannah Ko chose to study communication in the University of Cincinnati’s College of Arts & Sciences.

A&S communications grad and special events coordinator for UC's College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Hannah Ko, A&S communications grad and special events coordinator for UC's College of Engineering and Applied Science

“I found the verbal and non-verbal aspects of public speaking fascinating and felt that the field of communication is one I would not just learn a lot in, but also enjoy the learning process,” Ko said.

Ko was raised in Singapore, a country with such a hypercompetitive education system that it has become a zero-sum game, she said. After obtaining a degree there in banking and financial services, she came to UC — and has never looked back.

Ko graduated in 2012 with her bachelor’s degree in communications and obtained master of business administration and master of science in marketing degrees in 2016.

During her time at UC, Ko completed an outside sales internship with Chegg, an education technology company that provides textbooks, tutoring and other related services to students. The company's interns were broken up into teams and, over the next 13 weeks, were responsible for hitting a $25,000 sales target.

To accomplish this goal, they had to go door to door, selling promotional products to businesses.

“I still look back on that experience that really toughened me up and led to what I think is the success that I have today,” Ko said.

Of her teammates, Ko was the only one to hit the sales target. As a reward, she was connected to Chegg’s network of employers.

This experience was just one of the ways the College of Arts and Sciences set her up for success, Ko said. In addition to hands-on experience, the college gave her the courses, educational events and skilled faculty she needed to get where she is today.

Today, Ko works as the special events coordinator for UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science and the business administrator of its Joint Co-op Institute program.

As special events coordinator, Ko is responsible for organizing events meant to engage the college’s staff and faculty. She often has to negotiate with vendors and develop content for communications about upcoming events and projects.

In 2013, UC teamed up with Chongqing University to bring China its first mandatory co-op engineering program — now called the Joint Co-op Institute program. UC pioneered co-op in 1906 in a work-study model that has been followed but never equalled around the world.

“The students who enroll in JCI will receive engineering education and degrees from both institutions plus industry experience,” Ko said. “So, the students will complete the first four years of education and co-op in China and their fifth year at UC.”

As the program’s business administrator, Ko’s primary job is to track and manage the expenses and purchasing needs of the program. She also interprets verbal and non-verbal communication between the two universities’ administrators, a task that she takes pride in.

“This role has allowed me to use my cultural sensitivities to move discussions forward,” Ko said. “Especially when we're communicating with people from a different culture, I have had my supervisors and college administrators turn to me to read the subtle nonverbal messages in a meeting with high level administrators.”

It was at the beginning of her career that Ko met Ann Terry, who is now the senior director of alumni and donor experience at the UC Alumni Association and UC Foundation.

Since their meeting, Terry has appreciated Ko’s positivity, helpfulness and communication skills.

“I was very impressed with her communication style, which I think is something that is learned or at least you grow from when you're studying,” Terry said. “I'm assuming a lot of that was, if not started by, improved on during her time studying at UC and A&S specifically.”

Terry’s assumption is valid, since Ko attributes her knowledge of verbal, non-verbal and written communication, in addition to her ability to communicate with tact and diplomacy, to A&S.

“I think the art of communication is a little like the art of design. People may not notice a good design, but they will absolutely notice a bad design,” Ko said. “I appreciate everything that I've learned from A&S and the communication program.”

This profile is one of a series exploring the career paths of graduates from UC’s College of Arts and Sciences. Student Tawney Beans wrote this story for educator associate professor Bob Jonason’s Journalism capstone class at UC.

Featured image at top: UC and Chongqing University administrators, student orientation leaders and teaching assistants pose for a photo with first-year students in the joint co-op institute (JCI) program in September of 2019 on Chongqing University’s campus. Photo/Hannah Ko