June 20, 2019
My day began at the Vienna Metro station, riding the orange line to Federal Triangle. After wandering around lost in the Ronald Reagan Building for 10 minutes, I arrived at the Pavilion Room for APIA Scholars 10th Annual Higher Education Summit.
9 AM - Opening
Congresswoman Grace Meng gave the welcome keynote address, where she emphasized the diversity of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and the harmful effects of the model minority stereotype. While there are high achieving, high earning Asian Americans, there are also those who struggle. In fact, Asian Americans are the ethnic group with the highest income gap. The limited model minority stereotype prevents those who need help from acquiring support and reaching their full potential. As Meng said, “Everyone should have access to a quality education and support system to achieve their dreams.”
Next, Anna Le, a Gates Millenium Scholar, gave the opening remarks. She stressed the theme for the summit: collective voices for stronger impact. In her words, the Gates scholarship was the best thing to happen in her life– it propelled her into studying at New York University, interning on Capitol Hill, working with Grace Meng on unveiling a comfort women statue, and earning her Masters in Education from Johns Hopkins. Anna went on to teach at a majority African American school in Baltimore, and she organized the school’s first trip to DC because she knew many of the students had never seen the nation’s capital before, despite living so close. Because someone believed in her, an Asian American woman, and gave her a scholarship, she was able to stand with her African American students and demand better for them. Solidarity may be difficult sometimes, but it is always essential.
APIA Scholars rebranded this year, changing their logo to reflect the diversity of the AAPI community and including the phrase “Educate. Elevate. Empower.” They also changed the name from APIASF (Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund) to APIA Scholars in order to shift attention to what the organization is all about: the scholars. As part of their mission to educate, elevate, and empower scholars, Dewey Norwood introduced Wells Fargo’s Beyond College: 2019 Webinar Series. The webinars cover topics in professional development and financial health, such as preparing for a job interview or managing student debt. If prompted, registrants should enter passcode wellsfargo2019 to listen to past sessions or view the schedule for upcoming webinars. Happy learning!
10 AM - Women in Leadership
The first panel of the summit was moderated by News4 Today anchor Eun Yang. The panel featured Madalene Mielke, President and CEO of APAICS, Mary Okada, President of Guam Community College, and Vivian Tseng, Senior Vice President of the William T. Grant Foundation. Noël Harmon, the President and Executive Director of APIA Scholars, introduced Yang, sharing that Yang inspires her because growing up, she did not see many Asian women on TV. Yang joked that even now, there are people who mistake her for Connie Chung. On the topic of representation, Yang said, “The first Asian American woman I saw was my mother.” Watching her mother persevere and overcome struggles gave her the resilience and confidence needed to do what she does today. Yang’s statement reminds me of what Ted Gong, Executive Director of the 1882 Foundation, said about our upcoming Chinese American Woman in History Conference: “We will be celebrating the mothers.” When we recognize important Asian American women, we are often, like Yang, recognizing mothers. We are commemorating those that have created communities, preserved traditions, forged homes in a new country, and paved the way for the next generation.
Yang stressed the importance of sisterhood, of finding a community of supportive, like-minded women. Okada agreed, saying that mentors are crucial for career advancement. Tseng elaborated on this idea– not only is it important for her to be connected to those around her, but also to those who came before her. Growing up in Alabama, Tseng only knew a world that was black and white, so attending UCLA and being introduced to Asian American studies was a revelation. UCLA allowed her to understand her family and history in a broader context. She learned about how hard Asian Americans fought for rights taken for granted now, like integrated schools. She knows whose shoulders she stands on and carries that history with her in everything she does.
When asked about the low numbers of Asian American elected officials, Mielke responded that first, parents have to support an interest in politics and encourage serving in office as a valid option, not just the stereotypical doctor, lawyer, engineer. Second, those who want to run must be an active member of their communities and know what issues are important to their neighbors. Third and most important, take a leap of faith. Okada said that Asian American women often hold themselves back when they don’t feel ready. She almost did that herself– she did not feel qualified to become President of Guam Community College and was not going to accept the position. Good thing she did– she took a leap of faith, stepped into her position with confidence, and is currently working with villages to provide daycare services so adults all over Guam can receive a quality education.
Tseng shared how she saw the destructive model minority stereotype in her work. When putting together programs for at risk Asian American youth, she was often asked, “What do you mean at risk Asian Americans?” The model minority is a pernicious myth made up in the 1960s– when the African American community was protesting for structural change, the white people in power held up Asian Americans as a minority that was supposedly doing well on its own merits so that they would not have to address systemic discrimination. The model minority myth was created solely to pit minorities against each other, and the effects continue 60 years later. Racial bullying is overlooked, and at risk youth are ignored. Going back to the theme for the summit, what we need are collective voices for stronger impact. We must find ways to bridge our humanity for the interest of the minority community as a whole, ultimately strengthening this country.
For the closing question of the Women in Leadership panel, everyone was asked to give a piece of advice to students. Eun Yang said, “Always be prepared and do your homework.” Mielke told students to find their purpose and know their why. Okada advised, “If you don’t like your job, find another one.” Be ready, look for the next step, and don’t get too comfortable. Tseng urged students to know who they are and where they come from. People had to fight for all of us to sit in the Pavilion Room and attend this summit– now pay it forward.
11:30 AM - Innovations in College Access and Success
Jane Dapkus, the Vice President of the SAT Suite of Assessments for College Board, gave the first presentation. The average SAT score has been the same for the past 40 years– Dapkus decided that needed to change. The SAT should be an achievement, not an aptitude test. Students should be improving. Furthermore, the students who improve should be those who invest in challenging courses and who practice, not the students who invest in expensive test prep. So in 2016, the SAT was redesigned, including innovations such as the adversity score, which provides information about a student’s living and learning environment, and the Suite of Assessments. The new SAT does not have complicated vocabulary or confusing wording– tricks that students who could afford test prep took advantage of previously. Not only that, College Board made sure there was no way to “game the system” by providing free, personalized, world class practice through Khan Academy. The best test prep on the market now is free and accessible to everyone. The statistics show that students who practice improve their scores, regardless of gender, race, or income.
In the past, most students encountered the SAT for the first time the fall of their senior year. If they got a bad score, if the SAT deemed them not “college ready,” it was too late. The Suite of Assessments reflects the idea that college readiness should be a progression, not a one time measure. Students encounter the SAT the first time in middle school or freshman year in the form of the low stakes, low price PSAT 8/9. They take the PSAT 10 sophomore year, then again junior year, before finally taking the SAT senior year. This gives them plenty of time to improve. The PSAT 8/9 and 10 are vertically aligned to the SAT, which provides students an accurate measure of what they need to do to become college ready.
College Board is committed to expanding access to those historically underserved. They connect students who take the PSAT and SAT to scholarship opportunities with their partners, who offer over $300 million annually to qualified low income and minority students. With the SAT redesign, College Board provides unlimited free score reports and automated fee waiver delivery to low income students. When College Board found out that 20% of all students eligible to attend highly selective schools do not even take college entrance exams, they started offering the SAT on school days. The results speak for themselves.
For the second presentation of Innovations in College Access and Success, Don Yu, Angela Cammack, and Adam Ross Nelson exhibited Reach Higher. Reach Higher is Michelle Obama’s initiative to create a college going culture among low income students. Yu, the Chief Operating Officer, spoke on College Signing Day. Traditionally, College Signing Day is when seniors sign a letter of intent to play a collegiate sport. Reach Higher has changed College Signing Day to celebrate first generation, low income students who have overcome barriers. Cammack, the Director of Development, explained UpNext, a free text nudging system that has shown to make low income students more likely to attend and stay in college. Every text message is sent by a real person– it is not automated. Current college students serve as near peer mentors, encouraging students by saying, “You can make it because I did.” If students have questions the peer mentors cannot answer, such as regarding financial aid, professional college advisors will provide expertise. As part of Reach Higher’s collaboration with The Common Application, research data scientist Nelson focuses on the question, “Why do some students start the college application process but do not finish?” He stresses that answering this question has a tremendous potential in advancing access and equity.
12:30 PM - Student Performances
During the lunch break, student artists showcased their work. Because the focus of APIA Scholar is, well, scholars, they felt it important to incorporate students into the summit. I loved Mai Moua Vang’s three part painting “A New Home,” which depicts a family’s immigration from Laos through a refugee camp in Thailand and finally, settling in America. I enjoyed watching John Yang’s spoken word performance and Andy Luong’s “The Life of An Actor,” a traditional Chinese dance incorporating martial arts and opera. I was intrigued by Ashish Khanchandani’s research poster on the physiology of ankle movement, proving that art truly comes in many forms.
1 PM - Research in Higher Education
The Research in Higher Education panel included Sarah Belnick from the ECMC Foundation, Vincent Nava from the Nevada State College, Federick Ngo from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), Angela Sanchez from the ECMC Foundation, and Robert Teranishi from UCLA. Noël Harmon moderated the panel, which discussed the findings from UNLV’s Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) programs. Researchers used data submitted by the students participating in AANAPISI programs. They discovered that originally, many students felt that they did not belong at college, using phrases such as “We don’t see ourselves.” Nava used the analogy of a party– for these AAPI students, attending college is like being invited to a party but not actually feeling welcome. Researchers found that after the AANAPISI programs, students felt acknowledged, especially Pacific Islanders. Not only did AANAPISI participants feel more welcomed at college, but compared to students with similar GPAs and statistics going into college, they exhibited better academic outcomes. As digilent statisticians do, the panelists stressed that the results are not causal, but to me, they indicate that colleges benefit when they invest in their minority students.
1:45 PM - Private Sector Pathways
The Private Sector panel was moderated by Kimo Kippen, founder of Aloha Learning Advisors. The panel included Alba Castillo Baylin, the Vice President of Community and Stakeholder Relations from Coca-Cola, Nosa Iyoha, the Global Program Manager of the Youth Opportunity Initiative from McDonald’s, Joanne Tabellija-Murphy, the National Director of Corporate Affairs from Walmart, and Ouraphone Willis, the Senior Director of Global Diversity from UnitedHealth Group. Kippen asked the panelists what guidance they would give to students. Kippen himself said that he always asks, “Do I have the option and ability to bring my whole authentic self to work?” If not, he would find somewhere else. He also urged, “Believe in yourself. You are prepared,” which echoes Iyoha’s advice, “Everything you want, you have.” Iyoha found that many people are embarrassed working at McDonald’s, but they shouldn’t be. Working at a restaurant develops soft skills necessary for any future career. Baylin agreed, stressing that soft skills are most important. She looks for two things in a potential employee: 1) technical skills, and 2) personal attitude. I was surprised when Baylin said technical skills are the easy part. Personal attitude is the most difficult and most important part, which she evaluates using the three C’s: curiosity, courage, and collaboration. Tabellija-Murphy’s unconventional advice was “Stop trying to climb the ladder.” Instead, one should focus on their education and current position so that they have direction. Walmart is committed to their furthering education– the aptly named Dollar a Day program allows employees to attend college for just $1 a day. Willis counseled, “Know your core values. They will drive you.”
As a student, I am so grateful to the accomplished individuals from every panel for giving their guidance. I am inspired after learning what everyone is doing to improve access to education in the minority communities. The APIA Scholars Higher Education Summit was definitely educating, elevating, empowering.
Unfortunately, I had to leave the summit early to make my way to the Cannon House Office Building. There, I met up with three other 1882 Foundation interns to attend Nielsen’s Congressional Briefing on Informed Influencers And Powerful Purchasers: The Asian American Consumer Journey.
3:30 PM - Nielsen’s Congressional Briefing
Mariko Carpenter and Hanh Nguyen from Nielsen presented their report on Asian American consumers, with Madalene Mielke from APAICS and John Yang from AAJC. It was fascinating. Read more about this event in Gabi’s recap. In the meantime, read on for my overview. I learned that because Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group, because Asian American households are multigenerational, because Asian Americans frequently review products, because Asian Americans are early adopters of technology, because for so many reasons, Asian Americans hold great power and influence as consumers. Furthermore, products for Asian Americans have mainstream appeal, whether it is in movies, television, food, or sports. The American public wants diversity and inclusion in the media– they liked Bao, Crazy Rich Asians, Hasan Minaj, Lilly Singh, Always Be My Maybe… The American public wants Asian flavors in their cuisine. Why is this important? Since Asian American influence is growing, it is more important than ever for Asian Americans to be correctly counted in the 2020 census. Companies use that data to decide what products to put out– there’s a reason why the Costco in Fairfax, VA has kimchi! The government uses that data to decide what nonprofits to fund– in New York, a nonprofit that delivers food to Asian American seniors receives federal funding because census data says that the need is there. Ultimately, whether it is something as trivial as a new Netflix movie starring Asian Americans, or as crucial as supporting APIA communities in need, an accurate census count means representation. What can you do to ensure an accurate census count? Tell your friends and family, tell them to tell their friends. Use your influence!
After the briefing, I headed home, riding the orange line back to the Vienna Metro station. Thank you for joining me, and see you next time!