From China to New York and academia to the U.N., alumna’s journey continues
“Try everything in your 20s” was a philosophy Xiaoman Dong ’14 adopted early on – and as of the eve of her 30th birthday, she had followed it impressively. A decade spent mostly in academia has now led her to a position at the United Nations (U.N.) in New York City and the impressive title of Associate Communications Officer at the U.N.’s Youth Office.
The job she has held since March 2023 “diverges from the typical academic path,” she said, “but that makes it all the more valuable for broadening my worldview and deepening my understanding of how human society works.”
She began her 20s as a Furman senior, having arrived in the United States from Xi’an, China, four years earlier as a first-year international student. “From very early on, I knew I was going to go abroad to study,” she said, “and the United States is obviously one of the most competitive countries in education.”
She received offers from larger universities but was attracted by Furman’s liberal arts and sciences approach and low student-faculty ratio.
“Every professor I met made sincere efforts to help students however they could – a level of dedication I did not encounter again later in my academic journey,” said Dong, who thrived under the mentorship of advisors Eiho Baba, an associate professor of philosophy and Asian studies, and Aaron Simmons, a professor of philosophy.
“Xiaoman is a philosopher in the deepest sense of the word,” Simmons said. “She understands that genuine confidence is grounded in humility. She was the kind of student who makes her professors look good because she views them as not only instrumental aids in getting a job, but as mentors in lives well lived.”
Dong adopted another philosophy during her Furman years: “When in doubt, ask everyone, because I could always walk out of a professor’s office with something new learned.” She received advice and encouragement from Baba, Simmons and others, including philosophy faculty members Erik Anderson, David Gandolfo and Mark Stone; Katherine Kaup, the James B. Duke Professor of Asian Studies and Politics and International Affairs; and Carl Kohrt, then Furman’s interim president.
“All of them led by example and offered valuable wisdom about how to live more meaningfully,” said Dong. “I carry their lessons on moral courage, cultural empathy and speaking hard truths with benevolence in all I do.”
After graduating in Spring 2014, Dong headed to the London School of Economics and Political Science for her master’s degree in anthropology, then returned to China to work briefly at the U.N. Office for Project Services in Beijing before entering Peking University. Focusing her research on refugee issues, she earned a Ph.D. in international relations in 2020 and joined the faculty of Beijing Foreign Studies University. Dong taught courses in philosophy and the U.N. for three years before moving to New York and her U.N. Youth Office position in March 2023. There, she works with the Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals program, which recognizes young people who work to find lasting solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.
“Furman was instrumental in paving my path to a fulfilling career,” she said. “The nature of liberal arts and sciences education equipped me with versatility across disciplines, which proved to be invaluable as I navigate the dynamic priorities and ever-evolving initiatives at the U.N. Furman also nurtured the resilience, adaptability and cultural sensitivity vital to thriving within this extremely diverse institution.”
While Dong celebrates her first year at her new job and begins life in her 30s, there is at least one more career advancement she might consider, Simmons said.
“I would vote for her right now to run the world because she is the sort of person who does not seek out power, and thus is virtuous enough to bear the weight of responsibility that power bestows,” he said. “I was honored to be her teacher, but much more honored now to be her friend.”