“Education and Career Advancement” was the theme of the latest outreach effort from the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (Initiative). On Feb. 28 and March 1, Holly Ham, the Initiative’s executive director, brought attention to these high priority issues by visiting Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) educators and students and engaging with corporations in New York City. Ham visited the High School of Economics and Finance (HSEF), where she participated in a roundtable discussion with Michael Stanzione, principal, and AAPI students. HSEF is an academically rigorous public high school offering students business courses and workforce preparation opportunities. Students are given business training, such as job shadowing, internships and mentoring, through HSEF’s partnerships with corporations, including Citi Bank, Deutsche Bank, Etsy, KPMG, and Wells Fargo. First-generation AAPI students at HSEF shared with Ham their academic and career plans, which have been shaped by their experiences with academic instruction and real-world activities in the finance realms.
Ham also visited public High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies to spotlight the role of language development and cultural awareness in college and career preparation. Li Yan, principal, and Meesun John, vice principal, shared how their school prepares students for college and careers while developing academic proficiency in both Chinese (Mandarin) and English. In addition to its focus on dual-language proficiency, the school weaves Asia-related topics into all subject areas, and students are expected to demonstrate cross-cultural behaviors (Asian students relating their heritage to the American school system.) Ham visited a social studies class, where she shared with students the work of the Initiative. The High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies is dynamic in developing college and career readiness for high-demand jobs of the future, which will require not only strong academic accomplishments but also linguistic and cross-cultural capabilities.
Any outreach focused on education and career advancement would not be complete without a visit to a community college, as community colleges are often considered cornerstones of workforce preparedness. The Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) welcomed Ham to meet with senior education officials, professors, students and BMCC alums. Erwin Wong, acting provost and dean of academic programs and instruction, discussed the school’s exciting new venture: partnering with 30 career and technical education high schools throughout all five New York City boroughs. Through these partnerships, high school students earn stackable credits that are applicable toward an associate degree in applied science in computer network technology at BMCC. This provides students with an academic and career pathway in technology, which is crucial to the growing economy. Marva Craig, vice president for student affairs, along with current and former BMCC students, discussed how community college helps students gain marketable skills along with theoretical knowledge. This addresses the challenge among educators to develop not only an educated citizenry but also a prepared workforce. Ham discussed examples of the Initiative’s focus on helping students develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to succeed in the 21st-century’s high-demand jobs.
As we look to today’s workplace, career advancement drives many talented and skilled workers to “work smart” and position themselves for promotions. Data from private and public sector workplaces show that AAPIs are not equally or well represented among senior management. Ham participated in an executive leadership roundtable at the Asia Society, called “Cracking the Code: Powering Asian Pacific American Talent into Senior Leadership.” Speaking to a group of corporate executives and government leaders, Ham described how the Initiative has highlighted the gap that exists for AAPIs in senior decision-making and leadership roles in the workplace. These are key positions that impact services, products, markets, and operations for organizations across the private, public, and nonprofit industries. Frank Hironaka, vice president of sales compensation and integrity at AT&T, and Manolet Dayrit, partner at KPMG, shared how their firms have gone beyond employee resource groups to dive into the challenges and drivers that create a more diverse and inclusive workplace and leadership tract for all.
From workplace to community, a strong sense of belonging helps guide young people along the path of education and career development. Ham met with leaders from the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), learning about their exhibitions and interactive educational opportunities for families, children, and school groups. MOCA is dedicated to preserving the history and contributions of people of Chinese descent in the United States. The museum’s innovative, ongoing educational programs include hands-on learning for very young children; story time for older siblings; homework and research help for teens; and tailored programs for undergraduate and graduate students. Youth and young adults explore possible career paths via internship opportunities in archives and information technology. They also have the option to volunteer in museum life (fundraising, photography, and events planning) and to serve on the museum’s Youth Advisory Board or Community Youth Action Committee.
A visit to such a diverse city would not be complete without engaging with the Initiative’s Regional Network (RN). New York City is part of Region II, closely interacting with AAPI communities in all five New York boroughs and in New Jersey. Everett Lo, from the Social Security Administration, leads this active region. Under Lo’s leadership, Region II connects AAPI community members, leaders, and organizations with federal resources, particularly in areas that may be underserved. To promote education, this region brings together dozens of federal agencies with community-based organizations and schools to host youth conferences, provide federal recruitment and mentoring, and coordinate presentations on government resources. The RN provides valuable outreach to and communication with AAPIs directly and through local organizations across the country and territories. The Initiative treasures the RN and continues to support the effort of hundreds of federal employees driving our mission.
Debra Suarez is senior advisor in the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.