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        Business Analytics and Information Systems, Faculty

        Auburn family embraces business analytics faculty members in time of crisis

        October 16, 2023 By Laura Schmitt

        All News


        Kangkang Qi Chen Yan and colleagues

        Kangkang Qi (center) and Chen Yan (second from right) are pictured with several of the Business Analytics and Information Systems colleagues who helped them during Kangkang's medical crisis. Their colleagues are Department Chair Uzma Raja (right), Professors Pei Xu (left) and Kang-Bok Lee (second from left).

        An overcast Wednesday in late August 2022 was humming along like any other day for Auburn University Assistant Professor Kangkang Qi. Within minutes of arriving to pick up his daughter from pre-school, though, he developed a terrible headache and nausea that escalated into a medical emergency that nearly took his life.

        In the ensuing days and months, Qi’s Harbert College of Business colleagues rallied around him and his family, demonstrating what it means to be a part of the Auburn family.

        “I had a brain hemorrhage,” Qi said, sitting in his campus office almost exactly a year later.

        At the time Qi was stricken, his Harbert colleague Lei Huang, a professor of management and entrepreneurship, was also at the school with his wife to pick up their child. Huang’s quick action, Qi believes, saved his life.

        Huang recognized the seriousness of the symptoms and called 911, Qi said, because one of his family members had recently suffered a stroke.

        Meanwhile, Qi’s wife Chen Yan, a lecturer in the Department of Business Analytics and Information Systems, was on campus preparing to teach a business analytics class.

        “I was shocked—no one can prepare for this,” said Yan, recalling the phone calls she received first from her husband and then from Huang’s wife. “When I got to the school Kangkang was in a coma and the ambulance was there.”

        For her own safety, first responders advised Chen to not follow the ambulance to the hospital, so she drove their daughter home and explained what had happened to her parents who were visiting from China.

        The ambulance team rushed Qi to Piedmont Hospital in Columbus, Georgia, about 40 miles from Auburn, where he underwent life-saving emergency surgery. He would spend the next three weeks in ICU and about a month after that in a rehab hospital before going home.

        “It was just a normal day,” Yan said. “But when something [like this] happens, you can really tell that everyone is your family, and they will support you.”

        Amidst the chaos and uncertainty, Department Chair Uzma Raja began assembling a support network, while providing comfort to the family. Many Harbert and campus colleagues answered the call.

        Among the first to help, were business analytics colleagues Kang-Bok Lee and Pei Xu. Lee drove Yan to the hospital as Qi was undergoing surgery that evening, and he continued to take her and other family members to the hospital on subsequent days.

        Xu, who is originally from China, accompanied Raja to the couple’s home that first night to comfort Yan’s parents and serve as a translator. 

        During that first week, department coordinator Tiffany Blodget organized a meal train schedule so colleagues could volunteer to help.

        “Nearly a dozen of my colleagues brought us food either from restaurants, which was very costly, or home-cooked meals—including the families of Yen-Yao Wang and Ashish Gupta—which takes a lot of time and effort,” said Qi, who to this day expresses gratitude for people’s generosity.

        On September 1st, Qi’s parents arrived in the United States from China, and they were greeted at the Atlanta airport by Harbert employee Bob Helton who brought a friend from his church who spoke Chinese.  

        “They thought of everything,” said Yan. “My mother-in-law was so touched when she saw [Bob’s] friend was there and that he spoke Chinese. They were exhausted and worried when they arrived."

        Colleagues pick up the teaching load

        One of the most touching aspects of this crisis was the faculty’s willingness to take on both Qi and Chen’s teaching responsibilities for the semester and beyond. By Raja’s estimates, nearly 600 students were enrolled in their classes.

        Instructor Justin Farr pitched in to teach Qi’s undergraduate database course in the fall and spring semesters, which enabled Qi to receive the treatment and therapy he required to make a full recovery.

        According to Yan, the college helped her adjust her teaching load in the fall and colleagues took over instruction for the three business analytics courses she was teaching. Regina Gramling, Pei Xu and Sumin Han were among those who took on the extra teaching responsibilities so Yan could care for her husband, daughter and extended family.

        What warms my heart is the fact that not a single person expected to be paid anything extra for the [additional] work they had volunteered to do,” said Raja. “Of course, the college was able to compensate faculty…but the fact that no one had expected anything in return speaks volumes about the character of the Auburn family.”

        Completing a research paper

        When he awoke from his coma in September 2022, the first thing Qi asked his family was whether the journal editors had been in touch about a research paper he had submitted for publication.

        The editors had sent the paper back for a final round of revisions, Qi was told. Not to worry, though, his Auburn co-author and faculty colleague Sumin Han and former doctoral student Yeasung Jeong, who is now a faculty member at the State University of New York in Albany, helped him address the editor’s questions.

        Their paper, which examined the effect that mergers and acquisitions among IT firms have on product innovation, was published in the Journal of the Association for Information Systems in April.

        “I truly feel like Auburn is a family for me,” said Qi, who was overwhelmed by people’s concern and kindness, including the prayers of people whom he’d never even met, including church friends of Business Analytics Program Champion Michael Lamb and Finance Professor Albert Wang. “I’m very touched that people here are so supportive and caring.” 

        Qi also acknowledged the generosity and concern of Harbert Eminent Scholar David Paradice, who was department chair when Qi was hired in 2019.

        “Dr. Paradice and his wife sent me a gift card as they knew we might have some financial challenges during the treatment and recovery phase,” said Qi, who was appreciative of Mrs. Paradice’s concern during the ensuing months.

        Raja continues to be inspired by Qi and Yan.

        “They inspire me every day,” Raja said. “Through all of this, Chen Yan was able to juggle hospital visits, teach her students, manage parents who had a language barrier, and provide care to a toddler—all while never complaining. Her optimism is infectious.”

        Raja added: “I’ve seen Kangkang wake up from a coma and get straight to work, even working throughout his treatment. He comes to the office almost every day, even when his teaching is remote. And, he has asked to volunteer for events or if he needed to work harder on research. I am inspired every day by their positivity and by [our departmental team] that always comes through for each other.”

        This fall, Qi is teaching again—an information security course online. Yan returned to the classroom in the spring 2023 semester with her full course load—business analytics I and II. They are both still amazed at the generosity and kindness from so many people.

        There are countless other colleagues who sent text messages, gifts and called us,” Qi said. They were all very warm to us.”


        The Harbert College of Business which is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Raymond and Kathryn Harbert's transformational naming gift, is a nationally ranked hub of undergraduate, graduate and continuing business education that is inspiring the next generation of business leaders. Our world-class faculty deliver unparalleled academic rigor in the classroom, while our research-driven scholarship advances thought leadership and best practice across business disciplines. The largest college on Auburn's campus, Harbert enrolls more than 6,900 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students.