From the moment she stepped on campus, alum Ding Fan (BMgmt’14) has been focused on helping and engaging newcomers in Canada.

By Sarah Hampson

When Ding Fan (BMgmt’14) arrived from China as an international student, she had a stressful airport experience but found an innovative way to solve it; a sign of her innate ingenuity that has led to success as a multiple award–winning community builder and entrepreneur.

In 2010, Fan landed in Toronto, not anticipating having to find her way to her connecting flight to Halifax in a chaotic, unfamiliar airport. At the time, she didn’t feel comfortable asking strangers for help.

But then she spied two men in kilts who were carrying bagpipes. “I had read a lot about Nova Scotia’s Scottish traditions,” Fan explains with a laugh. “I followed those men and, fortunately, they were on the same flight.”

Such quick and resourceful thinking has been the cornerstone of Fan’s career as a community leader and businesswoman, earning her several awards, including being named one of the Maritimes’ Top 25 immigrants in 2019 and one of Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 30 Under 30 Innovators in 2022.

Helping fellow international students on campus

One of the first things Fan did upon arriving at Dalhousie was join the International Centre where she created the province’s first “landing support” program for Chinese students. This program offers free airport pick-up, a handbook in Chinese, a welcome party, an orientation program, translation services, a tour of downtown Halifax – and a detailed map of the Toronto airport.

During her undergraduate program, Fan’s efforts to help students from outside of Canada earned her the International Student of the Year award (2012-­2013) and the Board of Governors Award (2013­-2014). Fan also led the Dalhousie Chinese Students and Scholars Association, which was named the most impactful cultural society on campus (2013-2014). She was even invited as a student to participate in strategy meetings about Dal’s branding renewal. “If you work hard, people recognize your efforts and give you more opportunity,” she explains.” My advice to others is that once you have a vision and you have a way to do it, you have to do it. That way, people start to support you.”

Fan’s network at Dal grew to be multi-generational, including university staff and alumni. “That network has been very valuable in my whole journey,” she says, adding that she worked at Dal after graduation for three years at the International Centre in addition to stints at the Dal Grad House and the Faculty of Management. During that time, she also completed a Master of Technology Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Saint Mary’s University.

Lessons learned at Dalhousie inspired her career

Fan soon turned her experience helping students to the wider Chinese population in the province.

In 2014, she established the Nova Scotia International Network Society and has been involved with the Chinese Society of Nova Scotia since 2011, of which she is currently the president. Later, during her five years at Innovacorp, a crown corporation for early-stage venture capital projects, she travelled the world helping to identify and bring tech entrepreneurs to Nova Scotia. Again, her ingenuity came into play, hosting international entrepreneurial competitions to attract top talent as well as other events to help entrepreneurs see the value of establishing their businesses in Nova Scotia.

Ever focused on people looking to integrate into Nova Scotian life, Fan set up her own career counselling business and created a digital platform called New2 to connect international students and immigrants to their new community.

Her record is impressive: she has welcomed over 2,500 newcomers, hosted over 500 events and helped establish over 14 innovative start-ups in Nova Scotia. In the course of her career, Fan has become an expert ambassador who knows how to make people from other parts of the world feel respected and welcome.

One of her earliest lessons in that empathy piece came from Dalhousie. “The respect and appreciation from my professors made a big impact on me,” Fan says of her professors’ training to pronounce ethnic names properly. “My Chinese name is easy to pronounce, but a lot of my friends’ names are really hard,” she explains. “They would say, ‘You can call me by an English name.’ But the prof said, ‘No. I want to pronounce who you really are.’” Fan says asking for clarification is not something to be shy about. “People are not offended if you ask how to pronounce their name. They feel respected.”

Community helps create a healthy society

“I want to help people,” Fan says, adding that her name means “strong” in Chinese. “Society is people who support each other.”

Having recently started a new job as Marketing Manager for Marine Thinking, an autonomous technology company for surface vessels, Fan remains committed to Dal. She is on the organizing committee for many multicultural events and has represented Dal at events in Beijing and Shanghai. “In my 14 years in Canada, the place I appreciate most is Dal. It gave me the opportunity to become who I want to be.”