10th Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund Gala: Educating Future Leaders

By Wun Kuen Ng

Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF), the first and largest national non-profit organization that gives out college scholarships to Asian & Pacific Islanders, celebrated its 10th year at the Hilton New York on November 7, 2013. APIASF’s mission is to provide education equality and opportunities to an underserved population with financial needs. APIASF was created in 2003 and received non-profit status in 2004. By 2005, APIASF gave out $330,000 worth of scholarships in the amount of $2,000 each. Now, APIASF manages three scholarship programs – APIASF’s general scholarship, the APIASF Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) scholarship program and the Gates Millennium Scholars/Asian Pacific Islander Americans (GMS/APIA).

Before the inception of APIASF, students had to apply through the United Negro College Fund for Gates Millennium scholarships. The United Negro College Fund has been in existence for almost seventy years and similar national scholarship programs for Latin Americans have been in existence for thirty years. Now, corporations who would like donate to help the Asian American community have a place to donate the money. Through a rigorous application process, which requires thirteen essays, APIASF selects students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education with academic achievement, commitment to community service, and financial need. Now, APIASF has given out 70 million dollars in scholarships. Eighty-seven percent of the selected scholars have become engaged leaders creating non-profit organizations and making a difference for others.

This year, APIASF honors Orr Rivero, Vice President Human Resources of Hilton Worldwide for the “Inspiring Dreams” Award, William S. Allen, Chief Human Resources Officer of Macy’s, Inc. for the “Excellence in Education” Award and Dr. Doris Ching, Emeritus Vice President for Student Affairs, University of Hawaii System for the Higher Education Award. The night’s special guest speaker was President and CEO of McDonald’s Corporation Don Thompson and the keynote speaker was Executive Vice Presidents and Support Officer of McDonald’s USA Jim Johannesen. Master of Ceremony, Sachi Koto did an amazing job.

Don Thompson, a man with a busy schedule, has New York as his fifth city in 36 hours; his presence and commitment to the organization speaks volume of the APIASF’s mission and the work it does. He spoke about how he was a street kid, raised by a grandmother, now in her 90’s, and values education. In his speech, he began with the story of how McDonald’s came to be, a milkshake machine salesman Ray Kroc had a vision of where the McDonald’s company could go. He bought the rights from the aging partners of the hamburger joint and began selling milkshake and expanded its operations worldwide. Thompson emphasized on the value of education and how McDonald’s is proud of its contribution to APIASF which helped over 5,000+ students, 60% of the applicant’s families earn less than $30,000 per year, and half of them are the first in their family to attend college. In the words of Don Thompson, “Always give back.”

Jim Johannesen’s speech provided fatherly advises for the scholars, “One, your perspective and opinions matter, make yourself heard. Two, your decisions matter, make good ones. Three, in the digital age, live your lives like they are watching. Be careful of the picture you post on Facebook. Four, be proud of who you are. Five, always have a sense of humor. Six, you can make a difference. Lastly, live a life of abundance.”

During the speeches, there was a clash of broken dishes in the service area near the stage. It prompted Orr Rivero of Hilton Worldwide to say that it was he; he had been away from operations too long, 15 years. Riverio also slipped into his speech that those who signed up for the Hilton vacation resort packages in the silent auction, he would include dinner and cocktail. He spoke on how to make a difference, building partnerships and celebrate brighter futures.

William S. Allen of Macy’s also made a comment about the broken dishes, “What you heard, I have nothing to do with it, but we’ll sell more at Macy’s,” the audience laughed. Allen’s speech focused on how Macy’s and sister company Bloomingdale facilitates growth, provide mentorship and an exciting career. The company attracts and retains the talent, see new ideas hatch, give people an opportunity and a career that makes a difference. Macy’s commitment to education follows the same model of growth and offering opportunities that make a difference.

Dr. Doris Ching, a native of Hawaii, is passionate about students and their success. Growing up in Hawaii, she never had to face the discrimination or feel the isolation of being Asian. When students approached her for help on these issues, she just had to help and be a spokesperson for their needs, opportunities and potential. After her bachelor’s degree, she, herself never dreamt she would go further with her education until someone tapped her on the shoulder and told her she can do it. An advocate for education equality, she believes that one can choose and have opportunities for one’s career aspirations.

The highlight of the evening was the spoken word play by five APIASF scholars, who narrated their story, journey, and vision for their future scholars. The five were selected through a phone interview and met to collaborate on the script for the gala. Due to their busy schedules, not much rehearsal time was put in. But they managed, technical difficulties arisen when the spotlight was shined on the wrong scholar when another was narrating her story. Other than that little glitch, the stories were nevertheless touching. There was a scholar from Bhutan, a small province from China, the Philippines, Southeast Laos, and Tibet.

Of the five that presented, two were interviewed for the article. Cindi Sounthonevat, a Laotian, from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, is a 2007 GMS/APIA scholar studying pharmacy at University of Connecticut. With the help of the scholarship, which paid the remaining tuition bill not covered by financial aid, she was the first in her family to attend college. The scholarship also will also help pay for two years of graduate school and four years of Ph.D. program, should she choose to pursue further education. The GMS/APIA was very supportive, and contacted her after a not-so-well first semester. A representative called Sounthonevat and asked her how they could help her succeed. Out of the thousands of scholars who applied, she got a call. The scholarship enabled her to participate in study abroad opportunity, which took her to China to learn about medicine. She even got the chance to meet Bill Gates in person at the National Urban League conference in Boston in 2011. She is very grateful for the scholarship and would love to give back. One project she is involved in is raising $90,000 to build a maternity ward in a remote region of Guatemala to help lower the risk of infantile mortality rate.

Chhabi Sharma, originally from Bhutan, was a refugee living in Nepal, surviving on one meal a day, before he received the 2013 Sodexo Scholar. He heard about the Gates Millennium scholarship and applied online, was worried when the application asked for his high school history it would not be listed on the drop-down tab since he went to high school in Nepal. He called the number on the website and explained the dilemma. The web administrator told him that it could be fixed. He is currently studying computer science in Richland College at Dallas, Texas. During his spare time, he helps members of the Nepalese community as a translator when they need to apply for food stamps, bring them to the cashiers, etc., given he knows a little bit more English.

Other scholars during the evening, who did not participate in the spoken word play, included Yota Pacifico Oue, an international student from Micronesia, Chuuk Island. He is a 2013 GMS/APIA scholar, studying Engineering and Physics at Fordham University. There had been six other scholars that came from his high school. His teacher saw potential in him and encouraged him to apply for the scholarship. He has career aspirations to build infrastructure, roads, and schools on the island one day.

Ben Blad, a Taiwanese American from Idaho, is a 2009 GMS/APIA scholar studying architecture at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. One question he remembers from the application was “Name an incidence in which you stood up for minorities.” He recalled a time in high school when the student body government refused to attend an event to honor Native Americans due to cultural tensions. But, as the President of the student body, he rallied the school to attend.

Another selected scholar of Chinese descent finished a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Haverford and is currently studying International Education at Teacher’s College at Columbia University’s Master degree program. He hopes to understand different systems of education and affect change in educational policies.

The scholarships prove to be a strong support and network opportunities. Scholars attend conferences and stay connected with each other through Facebook.

Being a community and supporting each other, these scholars are motivated and spread inspiration, the scale of their ambitions and the flight of their dreams is within their reach. Education works and inspires. Many scholars are poised, confident, and articulate like true leaders of tomorrow.

A special treat for the audience, a singing performance from a sixteen-year old singer whose petite frame can fill the presence of the room when she bellows out, “Because you love me” by Celine Dion.

Each table had a mix of sponsors and scholars seated. Wine and bread were prepared. The entrees served were fillet mignon with spicy vegetables and for dessert, the choice of a mousse with passion fruit sauce or a chocolate cake with fudge center.

Neil Horikoshi, President & Executive Driector of APIASF, a thirty-year veteran at IBM, brings his business development skills, been navigating APIASF through the understanding of theory of change, logic model, scalability, collecting data that has a social impact, for five years. The organization is based in Washington D.C. and will be at the table of the White House whenever there is a discussion of education policies along with African American and Latin American scholarship organizations.

From the pledge cards on the table, APIASF raised $20,000 that evening.   With the silent auction, the entire night dedicated to the scholars and their future help raised more than half a million dollars. APIASF continues to make a difference in their lives.

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