SAUPO at its Roots: An Interview with Dr. May Gao, Founder and Chair


KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct 7, 2014) — By Jocelyn Weiss, SAUPO Staff Writer

ATLANTA, GA, USA – In early 2010, Communication Professor and Asian Studies scholar, Dr. May Gao endeavored to establish the Symposium on ASIA-USA Partnership opportunities (SAUPO), which is now the largest Asia business conference in the Southern United States. She envisioned a conference that emphasized USA and Asian partnerships and exemplified an integration of both business opportunities and progression in important scholarly research. She received tremendous encouragement from fellow Kennesaw State University Asian Studies colleagues, from which she was able to establish a team of dedicated supporters.

Dr. Gao was born and raised in China; she began her educational expedition at the prestigious Shanghai International Studies University in Shanghai, China. After completing her B.A. in English, she worked for several years in China as a TV anchorwoman. Dr. Gao then ventured to America to pursue her M.A. in Mass Communication at Brigham Young University. Additionally, she spent many years working in the fields of public relations and journalism in both China and the USA. She then went on to obtain her Ph. D. in Communication at the University of South Florida in 2000.

In the fall of 2004, Dr. Gao became an Assistant Professor specializing at Kennesaw State University. She quickly proved herself a valuable asset to the university. For example, she crafted a new graduate course: “Communication of or Multinational Corporations.” She also pioneered the institution of a new bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies, to be offered in fall 2015 (currently poised to be reviewed by the Board of Regents). However, her most impressive initiative to date remains the wildly successful SAUPO conference. This innovative conference is gaining considerable recognition on a global scale, particularly in Asia, and is becoming immensely popular throughout the Southern USA. However, SAUPO came from humble beginnings, a path populated with numerous hardships and obstacles.

Dr. Gao’s search for sponsors, speakers, and audience proved most strenuous in the beginning. In spite of the seemingly endless rejections, Dr. Gao persevered. “It was difficult, but I kept trying; I knew that everyone could benefit from a conference like this: students, academics, business partners, CEO’s”. Furthermore, she experienced substantial obstacles acquiring not only sponsors but speakers as well; “I had to teach myself how to sell the SAUPO conference,” She explained. Speakers fit for such a conference often have numerous global obligations, and require booking months or even years in advance. Additionally, hotel space in Atlanta needs to be reserved at least a year in advance, which means allocated funds must be obtained months before the reservation deadline.

Despite such impediments, SAUPO has become increasingly successful, “This year everyone is talking about SAUPO!” exclaimed Dr. Gao. The next SAUPO conference is scheduled for April 17, 2015, at the luxurious St. Regis Hotel in Atlanta. “I am so very excited for next year’s SAUPO, we will have speakers from all over the world and students from all over the Southern USA,” Dr. Gao said. I was particularly interested in the three panels that she mentioned: Digital Economy & e-Commerce, Corporate Social Responsibilities, and the Green Energy and Smart Grid. “This year we will have many prestigious business, academic and key note speakers, a cocktail hour, as well as, plenty of socializing and networking opportunities throughout the event. Dr. Gao said, “Many business deals are made on the day of SAUPO.” She went on to explain that the event will include breakfast, lunch, and a cocktail hour. In addition to business panel speakers, SAUPO will have hosted poster sessions and academic presentations from a multitude of scholars and students.