Faculty spotlight: Dr. Unal Boya

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dr. Unal Boya, professor of marketing in the Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University, is a native of Turkey and a citizen of the world.

He was an initiator, more than 20 years ago, of the William R. Holland Fellows for Business Study in Asia partnership with Fudan University in China, and he has traveled with students to England, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, China, Cuba, Ecuador and Galapagos Islands. He hopes to be able to include his native Turkey in this list soon. Boya stepped down as chair of the college’s Department of Marketing in July and will take sabbatical this fall semester.

It has been 28 years since he joined the Appalachian faculty and almost 40 since he first came to America. He said coming to the U.S was not a big culture shock, but it was an opportunity he never envisioned. “As a young man, I did not have the means to even cross the border into Iran or Iraq,” he said. A serendipitous series of events, including being identified by a professor as a candidate for a foundation-based scholarship, landed him at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill’s College of Business. He became active with the International Center there, beginning his avocation of championing international studies and programs.

Boya came to Boone, he said, in part because of the impressive international programs the university already had in place. “Even back then, Appalachian was way ahead of the University of Alabama where I was teaching after completing my Ph.D.”

Boya is a global traveler himself, having touched down in almost every part of the world. “Well, I haven’t been to Africa,” he said. “Or, South America. Oh, wait. I have been to Ecuador!” And his dream is that every student will have a travel abroad experience. “I wish two things,” he said. “Appalachian would initiate an intermediate semester, and during that time, every App student would travel to a different country, regardless of their means to do so.”

A study abroad experience is life changing, said Boya. “When you have a student who has never been out of North Carolina and you see him looking out an airplane window, observing that experience, and following the student around, seeing how they interact and how much they absorb. Then you see them blossom…their lives have changed. In only three weeks, you see them become much more worldly, priorities change. You are so proud. And you want to do more. You want to change lives one at a time.”

Boya said hosting students from other countries is also transformational. “The students suddenly are seeing themselves through the eyes of others,” he explained. “They discover a lot about themselves. They develop an appreciation of what they have. When the students want to see the dorms and want to meet your friends…they ask questions, share their differences. It is a unique opportunity to develop a bond with students from totally different cultures.”

Boya’s goal now is to start a program at Yasar University in Ismir, Turkey. “We should be able to use technology to involve even more students and faculty,” he said. “So many platforms are available that we need not be together to work on projects and collaborate. Still, my preference always is at some point to be together at the same place and interact, person to person.”

The Appalachian global experience does not stop with the study abroad program. International students from 35 countries are on the Appalachian campus this academic year. Boya is proud of the diversity of the faculty at Appalachian. The university recruits heavily internationally, petitions for H-1B visas and pays all permanent residency costs for tenure track positions. This academic year the WCOB hosted three semester-long visitors: one from China in information management, one from Turkey in finance and one from Thailand in supply chain management.

A tenure-track professor from Turkey, whom Boya was instrumental in recruiting, will come on board in 2016 along with a visiting faculty member from India. “I have a faculty who are so supportive and receptive to an international mix. You cannot do it without the support of the faculty and of the deans,” he said.

What’s next for Boya? “Time to retool,” he said. During his fall semester sabbatical, he will use the time to rethink his classes, prepare for them and maintain an active research agenda. “Appalachian has been a wonderful place for me. From day one, there were so many opportunities for international experiences,” he said, smiling broadly. “It’s been 28 wonderful years. Oh, wow. Wow.”