Dirk Thomas with his collegues in Shenzhen. Photos by Sun Yuchen
Dirk Thomas receives Shenzhen Daily’s interview.
In a stylish office inside a building in Futian District, Dirk Thomas, a retired executive with IBM, shared his views on mapping out different pathways to attend top-level universities in the United Sates with Shenzhen Daily.
In Thomas’s eyes, the way students present their ability to interact, participate and contribute to local communities precedes remarkable test scores and high-level English proficiency in getting them admitted into top American universities.
The American national moved to live and work in Shenzhen in 2008 and last year set up an education management company with two partners in Shenzhen.
The company, called Eagle Pathways Education Management, offers tailored training programs and advice to families and students who are seeking opportunities to study in the United States.
Thomas said that they were working closely with local families and students to connect with teams at their office in the U.S. to go through customized programs aiming to enhance the students’ skills in applying for American universities.
Unlike most overseas study agencies in China, Thomas and his team tend not to be large marketers as they maintain a selective mode of running their business.
“We focus a great deal on personal development, writing composition, and style that might help with their application,” said Thomas. “We also help them with application strategy to get into the universities.”
To help Shenzhen students with personal development and other skills, such as English writing and interview skills, the company’s American office designs programs by former admission officers from American universities and once the contents are ready, they can be delivered by Thomas and his team in Shenzhen.
“With our unique mode, we’ve sent 25 students here to top universities in the United States,” said Thomas. Although that is not a big figure, the company will stick to its mode, according to the chairman.
“The company is still at an early and developmental stage, and currently we are talking about setting up an office in Beijing. After that, we will look at the tier-two cities in the south and west,” said the senior strategy consultant.
Being a long-term resident of Shenzhen, Thomas knows enough about the city and people living in it. He said that he had seen a lot of students in Shenzhen with a good chance of being accepted into an elite university in the U.S. and that the key way to connect these students with high-level education is to scaffold their way of presenting themselves.
The education adviser suggested that students who are planning to study overseas should start their preparation two to three years in advance so that they can have enough time and energy to improve their skills.
“Students and families who take the longer view tend to get into higher ranking schools. Families that make decisions at the last minute often find they haven’t used their time well to develop certain skills.”
Apart from academic results, Thomas emphasized that the potential students’ passion and eagerness to study and interact with local communities play a vital role in making them outshine their competitors from both the destination country and China.
“The number one reason for a university to pick a student is the student’ ability to participate and contribute to that community. The top universities are going to look at how well students are going to interact with a broader range of people,” said Thomas.
Friend of China
Over his years in China, Thomas has negotiated a number of deals, built companies in China and more generally throughout Asia. He was awarded the “Medal of Friendship” by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and “Medal of Friendship” by late Singaporean President S. R. Nathan.
He was a torch-bearer for 2008 Beijing Olympics, and named among the top 10 foreigners contributing to the economic development of Shenzhen.
Besides his role as a businessman, Thomas also lectures at Peking University Graduate School of Engineering on clean technologies and has spoken at innovation, energy and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) forums throughout China.
Helping Chinese or other foreign students get an opportunity to study at American universities is not something new for Thomas. In fact, he has reached out to many people who have come to him for help in the past few years.
Thomas is the father of two daughters. He gained his experience and skills by helping his daughters apply to universities. At the suggestion of his friends, Thomas started Eagle Pathways as an investment company within the strategy and investment advisory company he set up in Hong Kong after retiring from IBM.
At his Futian office, Thomas recalled his memory of coming to Shenzhen for the first time in 1992. “At that time, we were either coming to Shenzhen on a boat from Hong Kong to Shekou or on a train through Luohu and it was almost empty between Shekou and Luohu.”
“I remember walking on the road and seeing all the red earth dug up. Futian didn’t exist by then.”
A decade has passed and Thomas said that he had witnessed the great transformation of the city from a hardware exporting city to an innovative financial center.
As an education adviser, Thomas said that advocating that local students study overseas is a good thing for the government to do, because he believed that most students would choose to return after completing their studies, which would greatly accelerate the city’s development.