Yang Alice Cheng

Yang "Alice" Cheng

Some people are full of sports stats, others the latest news. Yang “Alice” Cheng, on the other hand, is a veritable repository of corporate disasters. Sporting a résumé already bursting with grants and publications, the award-winning School of  Journalism doctoral candidate and Trulaske College of Business MBA candidate is an up-and-coming academic in public relations.

Cheng talks at length about the Domino’s Pizza fiasco of 2009, when employee pranksters produced the viral video suggesting their food preparation routines were less than sanitary. She has published articles and presented talks about the 2014 recall of 16.5-million General Motors vehicles with faulty ignition switches, which were implicated in 36 deaths and 44 serious injuries. This week, she is all over the United Airlines debacle, in which the carrier forcibly removed a paying customer from his seat. That video also went viral.

Cheng’s interest in corporate implosions lies less in their causes than in what corporations and stakeholders say and do in their wake. That’s crisis communications: What were the reactions of the company, its customers, news media and social media? How do these players affect one another’s thinking? Who decides which issues are most important? How can companies mitigate damage? And how does one measure these complicated relationships in a useful way?

Cheng is figuring it out fast. The native of Ma’anshan, in eastern China, has won one of the highly selective 2016 Chinese Government Awards for Outstanding Self­-financed Students Abroad. The award recognizes academic excellence of Chinese doctoral students studying internationally without government funding. Only 501 students worldwide were selected for the honor, which is awarded by the China Scholarship Council and which comes with a $6,000 prize.

Within that group, Cheng was one of 10 selected as “extra -outstanding” and so receives $10,000. The Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China presents Cheng with her award April 27 in Chicago. What makes her extra-outstanding? For starters, as a doctoral student, she has published 13 scholarly articles in refereed journals, four book chapters and 29 conference papers She also has won seven grants on which she has been principal investigator or shared that responsibility.

"Alice exceeds all expectations," says journalism Professor Glen Cameron, Cheng’s adviser. "She has built a tenurable academic record that would stand up to review at virtually any research-oriented program in the country. Alice combines intelligence with endless energy to address every testable question she poses."

Until Cheng came along, all of the extra-outstanding awards had gone to students of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (known as STEM fields). And she is Mizzou’s first extra-outstanding winner. In addition to conducting research, Cheng teaches research methods, strategic communication and global communication. She is also mother to 14-month-old Cameron, named for her adviser.

Cheng plans to finish both her doctorate and MBA in May. She will then join North Carolina State University as an extra-exceptional tenure-track assistant professor of public relations.

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