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Alumni Spotlight: Yankun Gao and Chuhong Qian
USC Gould School of Law

Monday, December 7, 2020

After graduating in May, USC Gould alumnae Yankun Gao (LLM 2020) and Chuhong Qian (LLM in ADR 2020) spent their summer interning with the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center (APADRC). Both had learned about the internship at the UCLA LLM Internship Program early in the spring term, and looked forward to improving their mediation skills and assisting APADRC’s clients. Instead of working alongside colleagues and learning from supervisors in the downtown Los Angeles office, however, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically altered their plans.

According to APADRC’s community mediation program manager and ADR skills trainer, Essie Martsinkovsky, all mediation and other ADR services went remote in March due to COVID. They on-boarded a new summer team in June, including Gao and Qian. 

Martsinkovsky described the team as strong, cohesive and supportive in spite of the difficulties posed by remote work. In fact, they were so impressive and effective in the face of tremendous adversity, she said, that APADRC nominated the team for recognition by the National Association for Community Mediation. The members of APADRC’s 2020 summer remote COVID-19 team were recognized as Outstanding Volunteers in November. 

Martsinkovsky praised both Gao and Qian for their contributions. Working by phone and over Zoom, they forged connections with disputants though active listening and showing empathy. They educated clients about mediation and other available options, and discussed creative ways to frame their conflicts, and ultimately helped empower disputants to choose their best-fitting paths toward resolution. Together, they helped resolve dozens of disputes that might otherwise have resulted in expensive and time-consuming lawsuits. 

“Chuhong was always very kind and had a calming presence,” Martsinkovsky said. “She instilled a more relaxed and humorous spirit to the team. Even after returning home, she continued working between 12:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m., and 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. — China time. Chuhong exceeded our high expectations!” 

Gao similarly impressed the center’s staff. “She was amazing at incorporating feedback in order to adapt and improve rapidly as a mediator,” Martsinkovsky said. “She was very diligent in her follow-up and commitment to clients and improving herself.”

Gao and Qian both recommend this internship to future ADR students at USC Gould. 

“You will encounter many different types of mediation in practice, and there are many mediators who can exchange mediation skills with you,” said Gao. “The interns here come from all over the world. In fact, the communication between you and other interns is also a process of exploring how to communicate between different cultures.”

Qian said the internship helped improve her mediation skills. “We would discuss our cases after working with clients and the feedback was both fascinating and helpful. I became much more confident speaking English and speaking in public to strangers. I learned to explain mediation to a wide range of parties, covering the whole range of sophistication, professionalism, and education levels.” Both agreed that the virtual environment impacted their work. “I can still remember my first time picking up the phone to call a client. I was so nervous, even though I had mediated before. With no visual cues — no eyes, face or body language — I felt like I was working with less information,” Qian said. “But APADRC gave great feedback. I could always seek help from Essie, my supervisor, or colleagues.” 

Gao said she shared the same challenge in her work. “One of the greatest difficulties of remote work is that if we communicate through the screen, the effect of emotional transmission may not be good. Our mediation work needed to show our understanding as across the screen, the effect of emotional expression is weakened.” 

In spite of these difficulties, they succeeded in delivering a valuable service to Angelinos in conflict, and represented APADRC and USC Gould with pride. The NAFCM award, one of only a handful awarded nationally, testifies to their professionalism, compassion and excellence.

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