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AANHPI Changemakers in Higher Education

Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month is celebrated annually in May to honor the contributions of AANHPI generations to American history, society, and culture. It’s an opportunity to recognize and honor the changemakers who have paved the way for future generations to thrive and succeed.

This month’s theme, selected by the Federal Asian Pacific American Council, is “Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity.” Through this series, FAPAC highlights the efforts of advancing leaders and celebrates the achievements of AANHPI individuals. 

It’s crucial to showcase, celebrate, and build a community for AANHPI because of the significant gaps and challenges faced in higher education and beyond. According to Insight into Diversity, Asians and Pacific Islanders are scarce in higher ed leadership positions. The underrepresentation of AANHPI leaders is also evident in several studies, including  American Council on Education (ACE) data from 2019, which found that AANHPIs make up only 2.3% of college presidents and chancellors. This underrepresentation is problematic because it limits the perspectives and experiences brought to decision-making tables.

At the same time, hate crimes against Asian Americans have surged since COVID-19, with Stop AAPI Hate reporting nearly 11,500 hate incidents of hate crimes and harassment against AANHPI individuals from March 2020 to March 2022. Recognizing and addressing these issues through community building, representation, and education is essential.

Celebrating the AANHPI Changemakers in Higher Ed

This month is a time to celebrate and honor these communities’ diverse cultural heritage and contributions. As part of this celebration, I want to recognize and uplift the leadership of AANHPI individuals in higher education. Throughout May, I’m featuring inspiring individuals who have broken barriers and made significant contributions to the industry. The article will be updated every Monday, so be sure to check back and join me in celebrating their remarkable achievements.

Emerging Leaders

ALT Text: GRAPHIC: Asian American & Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month: AANHPI CHANGEMAKERS IN HIGHER EDUCATION: Emerging Leaders | The highlighted leaders are listed to the right respectively, with headshots and their names below: Krista Boniface, Jacob Chacko, Susan Hua, Marc Lo, Viraj Patel, Christopher Nguyen Pheneger

Continuing our celebration of AANHPI Heritage Month, it is my pleasure to turn the spotlight to a group of remarkable emerging leaders within the AANHPI community. These individuals are making waves across campuses, demonstrating their passion, drive, and potential for creating positive change in academia. Through their diverse talents, advocacy, and energetic commitment, they are shaping the future of higher education and I can’t wait to see their impact for years to come!

Krista Boniface

Senior Social Media Strategist | University of Toronto

Krista Boniface is the Senior Social Media Strategist at the University of Toronto, and I am a very big fan. Krista excels at creating engaging social media strategies and impactful content and brings joy and care to her work, focusing on mental health and building digital communities. Krista also served as faculty on the Digital Community Building Cohort and was a recent guest on my podcast, Josie and the Podcast!

Jacob Chacko, PhD

Inaugural Director of Dialogue across Difference | Washington University in St. Louis

Dr. Jacob Chacko is the Inaugural Director of Dialogue across Difference at Washington University in St. Louis. With a wealth of experience in student affairs, Jacob has been a visionary in fostering inclusive campus environments – from serving as the Director for the Asian American Cultural Center at Rutgers University to being the coordinator for the Asian Pacific American Resource Center at California State University, Fullerton, he has left his mark. On his LinkedIn bio he shares he was born in Kerala, India, and raised in Skokie, Illinois; he is a 1.5 generation Queer Indian American. Stay tuned for his upcoming role as co-chair for Engagement & Volunteers at the NASPA 2024 conference—how cool is that?

Susan Hua

Inaugural Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion | Community College of Aurora

Let’s give a warm shoutout to Dr. Susan Hua, the inaugural Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the Community College of Aurora! Susan is a passionate educator dedicated to cultivating culturally-relevant and inclusive campus environments. As a Teochew Chinese American and a first-gen college student, she brings a service and heart-centered perspective to her work. Susan has held numerous volunteer roles within NASPA and was part of the 2022 cohort for the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education’s Standards for Professional Practice Institute. Susan is making a real impact on the student experiences and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for her.

Marc Lo

Inaugural Executive Director, Penn First Plus | University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Marc Lo is the Inaugural Executive Director of Penn First Plus at the University of Pennsylvania. Marc is a true champion of inclusivity and socioeconomic diversity in higher education. As the first person in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree, he knows firsthand the challenges faced by first-gen students. With his visionary leadership, Penn First Plus is reimagining itself to provide better support and opportunities to students from modest financial means. He also recently served at the ACPA Conference chair. Marc’s journey from a first-gen, low-income student to an accomplished scholar and executive director is truly inspiring!

Viraj Patel

Inaugural Director of Asian American Student Academic Program | University of Illinois at Chicago

Viraj Patel, the inaugural Director of the Asian American Student Academic Program, has a passion for social justice, and she’s making waves in higher ed and student affairs. Viraj’s commitment to public service and community engagement shines through her work, as she even serves on the Advisory Council for CAPAL as well as the upcoming Annual NASPA Asian Pacific Islander Knowledge Community Scholars Collective. This dedication was recognized in 2023, when she was named as the Outstanding Mid-Level Professional by the Asian Pacific Islander Knowledge Community. When she’s not empowering students, you can find her experimenting with delicious recipes on her food Insta!

Christopher Nguyễn Pheneger

Diversity and Inclusion Educator | Vice Chancellors Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Christopher Nguyễn Pheneger is a rising star in higher education! As a Diversity and Inclusion Educator, he’s transforming institutions into communities of belonging. His personal journey as a queer, transracial Asian American adoptee fuels his dedication to student success and persistence. With a B.A. in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, and an M.A. in Higher Education and Student Affairs, he’s equipped to make a difference. When he’s not advocating for DEI, you can find him marathoning anime or Korean dramas. I’m inspired by all Christopher has already accomplished and can’t wait to see his impact grow over the years!

ALT Text: GRAPHIC: Asian American & Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month: AANHPI CHANGEMAKERS IN HIGHER EDUCATION: Emerging Leaders | The highlighted leaders are listed to the right respectively, with headshots and their names below: 
Clarissa Mae-Calibas, Avani Rana, Sridevi Rao, Ali Raza, Wiliama Sanchez, Fred M. Tugas

Clarissa Mae Calimbas

Assistant Director | San José State University

Clarissa Mae-Calimbas is the Assistant Director at San José State University in Student Involvement for Recognized Student Organizations and an incoming doctoral student in SJSU’s Educational Leadership EdD program. She is a core team of the Asian Pacific Islander Knowledge Community (APIKC) Leadership Team in NASPA and an alumna advisor for Alpha Omicron Pi. I have loved watching Clarissa’s career path over the years and can’t wait to see this future scholar make an even bigger impact.

Avani Rana

Director of Co-Curricular & Leadership | The College of New Jersey

Avani Rana is currently the Director of Co-Curricular & Leadership at The College of New Jersey. Avani has created transformative programs and collaborated with different offices to foster leadership and growth. This scholar’s research specifically focuses on equity and education, with her dissertation, “Beyond the Classroom: The Student Involvement Experiences of 2nd Generation South Asian College Students.” Her reach has also extended to professional associations, such as serving on numerous NASPA planning committees. Join us in celebrating Avani Rana and her incredible impact on students’ lives!

Sridevi Rao, Ph.D

Managing Director for Texas Robotics | The University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Sridevi Rao is connecting her experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion with innovation and tech. Her dissertation, Be(com)ing Desi: A Critical Exploration of South Asian College Student Identity, employed a critical rate theory lens. She is also dedicated to diversifying STEM pipelines and college student retention programs, paving the way for a more equitable future. In addition to serving as the Managing Director of Texas Robotics and The University of Texas at Austin, she also is the vice president of membership for the Texas Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Ed and a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity for the last ten years. Impressive Sridevi!!

Ali Raza

Assistant Director of Involvement | Colorado State University

Ali Raza is a global adventurer, educator, and advocate for social justice. He is the Assistant Director of Involvement at Colorado State University and is a part-time doctoral student in HR & Education. Ali, shares that he was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and came to the US when he was two. As a first-gen college graduate and a positive force, he’s changing the world and leaving a mark wherever he goes – heck, look at his LinkedIn bio; I love it! Follow Ali Raza for his energetic commitment to creating positive change!

Wiliama Sanchez

Student Success Operations Manager | University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Wiliama Sanchez is the Student Success Operations Manager at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. With a strong background in higher education and a passion for identity development and Indigenous ways of learning, Wiliama brings a unique perspective and energy to any campus, conference, or room he is in. I’ve applaude Wiliama’s work through NASPA in various roles, including serving as co-chair of the 2022 Western Regional Conference and receiving the rising star award as an undergrad. Follow Wiliama to see the positive impact he’s making in student affairs!

Fred M. Tugas, Ed.D.

Associate Dean of Student | Old Dominion University

As the Associate Dean of Students at Old Dominion University, Fred Tugas is a leader in student engagement and a true advocate for student success. With expertise in various areas of higher education, including admissions, residence life, and student governance, Fred brings a wealth of knowledge and experience. Unsurprisingly, in 2022, he received th the Melvene Draheim Hardee Award for outstanding contributions to the student personnel profession by the Southern Association for College Student Affairs. Fred has such a contagious energy – he’s really someone to look to in the next generation of digital leadership.

Student Affairs Leaders

ALT Text: GRAPHIC: Asian American & Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month: AANHPI CHANGEMAKERS IN HIGHER EDUCATION: Student Affairs VPs and AVPs | The highlighted leaders are listed to the right respectively, with headshots and their names below: Zduy Chu, Kathryn Kay Coquemont, Shruti Desai, Joshua Johnson, Lori Ideta, Smita Ruzicka

In continuation of celebrating Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I am excited to highlight six exceptional professionals in the area of student affairs. Vice Presidents and Associate Vice Presidents in student affairs are critical in shaping the campus culture and creating opportunities for students to succeed. These individuals have demonstrated leadership, compassion, and dedication to advancing equity and inclusion in higher education. Their work has created transformative experiences for students and inspired countless others to follow in their footsteps.

Zduy Chu

Assistant Vice President for the Division of Student Affairs | Florida State University

Dr. Zduy Chu, Assistant Vice President for the Division of Student Affairs at Florida State University, provides senior-level management, leadership, and vision in the division and within Student Life. He has previously served as the Deputy Chief Officer of Student Affairs – Strategic Initiatives at Valdosta State University. Dr. Chu’s intentional impact and dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion are evident, especially as he pours into the next generation of leaders as a facilitator for StrengthsQuest and LeaderShape! Check out how he’s documented the student (and AVP) experience on Instagram.

Kathryn Kay Coquemont

Vice President for Student Affairs | Macalester College

Kathryn Kay Coquemont is a dynamic leader in student affairs and enrollment management with almost two decades of professional experience in higher education and business consulting. She has held numerous roles with NASPA, as a past chair of the Western Regional Conference and board of directions. I love her instagram bio that reads, “Fan of Macalester students, equity-minded educator, VP of Student Affairs. Account is a mix of who I am, what I do, & how I integrate the two. 🧡💙.” I’m inspired by Kathryn’s dedication to leadership and equity, and honored to celebrate her during AANHPI Heritage Month.

Shruti Desai

Associate Vice President of Student Affairs | Duke University

Associate Vice President of Student Affairs for Student Engagement at Duke University, Shruti Desai is dedicated to creating an inclusive and empowering community for all students. In an article from The Duke Chronicle, Shruti shares that as a queer woman of color with immigrant parents, “The pipeline of higher education is changing. There are more first-generation and low-income students, more students of color from various faith backgrounds, more LGBTQ+ students as well as students with disabilities,” and how her aim is to lead through acts of healing. Shruti’s resilience and passion for social justice is contagious, and we’re lucky to have her leading the way.

Joshua Johnson

Vice President of Student Services | College of San Mateo

As the Vice President of Student Services at the College of San Mateo, Joshua Johnson is committed to creating a safe and supportive environment for all students, especially those who may feel marginalized or unheard. His work is rooted in his own personal experiences as a Christian, queer, multiracial man, and he’s written two amazing books on the topic. Plus, he’s a former radio host, through a weekly show called, Check Ya’Self, which critically examined media and popular culture through a social justice lens! Josh is making a real difference in the lives of students, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Lori Ideta

Vice Provost for Student Success | University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Dr. Lori Miyo Ideta, Vice Provost for Student Success at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, is making huge strides in academia. Dr. Ideta is also a Full Faculty Specialist and graduate professor at the University of Hawaiʻi College of Education, where she teaches courses and guides masters and doctoral students through their graduate programs. Lori has been a consistent and impactful leader in NASPA and has received numerous awards, including the Fred Turner Award for Outstanding Service. Dr. Ideta is a proud product of Hawaiʻi’s public school system and is a first-generation college attendee. Thank you, Lori, for making such an impact!

Smita Ruzicka

Vice President for Student Affairs | Middlebury College

Dr. Smita Ruzicka, Vice President for Student Affairs at Middlebury College, who on Twitter describes herself as, “I love to laugh. I love to learn. Proud to be an Indian Desi Girl, a Longhorn, daughter, wife, sister, friend, and cat lover. So lucky to work with Students!” This energy is found in her impact on campus and throughout the industry, such as her steadfast involvement with NASPA. Her research interests include South Asian American college students, Asian American issues, especially mental health, and leadership development. Dr. Ruzicka is a true inspiration!

AANHPI Leaders Across Campus

GRAPHIC: Asian American & Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month: AANHPI CHANGEMAKERS IN HIGHER EDUCATION: LEADERS ACROSS CAMPUS | The highlighted leaders are listed to the right respectively, with headshots and their names below: Amer F. Ahmed, Wyman M. Fong, Mary Osako, Kyle Reyes, Joe Sabado, Kimberly A. Truong, Melissa Woo

This week I’m highlighting seven leaders from pockets of campus such as technology, DEI, marketing, human resources, advancement, and administration. Their leadership and commitment have impacted their communities and inspired many to follow in their footsteps. Join me in recognizing and thanking these inspiring AANHPI leaders and their contributions to our campuses and beyond.

Amer F. Ahmed

Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion | University of Vermont

Dr. Amer Ahmed currently serves as Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the University of Vermont and is also an organizational strategist guiding leaders on diversity and inclusion, equity, race, and intercultural development. Amer has been featured on MSNBC, and his writings have appeared in numerous publications. Make sure to check out his podcast, The Eclectic Inclusion Podcast, which features change agents and discusses a more equitable and just world.

Wyman M. Fong

Vice Chancellor of Human Resources | Chabot-Las Positas Community College District

Wyman M. Fong is the Vice Chancellor of Human Resources for the Chabot-Las Positas Community College District (CLPCCD) and a true inspiration to us all. Not only does Wyman oversee important programs like equal employment opportunity and people development, but he’s also making waves in the higher ed community. He was elected as President of the Association of California Community College Administrators (ACCCA) and serves as a board member for Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education (APAHE) and a faculty member for LEAP Advance. Plus, he’s a founding member of The Coalition, a group working to address inequity in California’s community college system.

Mary Osako

Vice Chancellor Strategic Communications (CMO & CCO) | UCLA

Mary Osako, UCLA’s inaugural Vice Chancellor for Strategic Communications, is a storytelling powerhouse! With over two decades of experience in leading complex communications efforts, she has helped maintain and enhance UCLA’s reputation as a world-class public research university. In addition to her impressive career, Mary serves on the board of directors of the Hammer Museum and the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, demonstrating her commitment to giving back to her community. I am proud to celebrate her contributions to academia and AANHPI Heritage Month!

Kyle Reyes

Vice President of Institutional Advancement, CEO of UVU Foundation, and Associate Professor | Utah Valley University

Dr. Kyle Reyes is a rockstar Vice President of Institutional Advancement, CEO of UVU Foundation, and Associate Professor at Utah Valley University. He’s received numerous awards for his work in community outreach, service learning, and inclusive initiatives, and his research focuses on leadership for equity and access. As noted in his bio, he and his wife intentionally build cultural heritage (Hawaiian, Navajo, Filipino, Japanese) into their family learning and engagement. Dr. Reyes is an exceptional role model, promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion and demonstrating the impact that a dedicated and inclusive leader can have on a university community.

Joe Sabado

Deputy CIO | UC Santa Barbara

With over 22 years of experience and a passion for promoting diversity and inclusion, Joe Sabado is a true inspiration to students and staff alike. As a first-generation Filipino-American immigrant, he is committed to being a “possibility model” and mentoring underrepresented students. Joe’s expertise in IT planning and strategy, project management, and financial planning has made a huge impact at UCSB, where he manages complex projects and oversees important systems like electronic medical records. He has received numerous awards for his service to students and is an active member of national organizations like Educause and NASPA.

Kimberly A. Truong

Chief Equity Officer | MGH Institute of Health Professions

With over 20 years of experience, Dr. Kimberly Truong has led the charge for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in higher education. She’s a published author, a nationally recognized researcher, and a member of several prestigious organizations, including the NADOHE CDO Fellows Program. And that’s not all – in 2021, she was recognized as the Rising Star Award recipient by NADOHE and named one of the 50 most influential people of color in higher ed by Get Konnected!

Melissa Woo

Executive VP for Admin and Chief Information Officer | Michigan State University

Melissa Woo is an amazing leader in higher ed who prioritizes mentorship and especially supporting future leaders from diverse backgrounds. As the Executive VP for Admin at MSU, she’s leading the charge in enterprise-wide administrative services like IT, HR, and sustainability. Plus, she’s the Chief Information Officer and President of the MSU Research Foundation – talk about a powerhouse! She’s been recognized as one of EdTech Magazine’s Dean’s List and won the inaugural EDUCAUSE DEI Leadership Award in 2019. In addition to her role on the EDUCAUSE Board of Directors, Melissa also served as co-chair for the Higher Education Information Security Council (HEISC).

College and University Presidents

GRAPHIC: Asian American & Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month: AANHPI CHANGEMAKERS IN HIGHER EDUCATION: PRESIDENTS | The highlights Presidents are listed to the right respectively, with headshots and their names below: Ellen Junn, Santa Ono, Frank Wu, Rowena Tomaneng, L. Song Richardson, Mung Chiang

I’m excited to begin my spotlight series featuring six exceptional college and university presidents. These leaders are changemakers making a significant impact in their respective disciplines, inspiring and empowering students and colleagues alike. Their unwavering commitment to equitable access to education and innovative approaches to student success has positively impacted their institutions and the wider community.

Ellen Junn

President | California State University, Stanislaus

Let’s give a big shoutout to Ellen Junn, President of California State University, Stanislaus, and the first Korean-American woman president appointed to a four-year public institution! Under her leadership, Stan State has been prioritizing innovative programs for student success (especially for non-traditional students), state-of-the-art classrooms, and support for faculty, not to mention she has published numerous peer-reviewed research articles and promoted diversity and inclusion. After 40 years in higher education, President Junn announced earlier this spring that she is retiring in June. Her impact will continue to be felt for decades!

Santa J. Ono

President | University of Michigan

Santa J. Ono is the 15th president of the University of Michigan, the first Asian American to lead the university, and a true digital leader in higher education! In his current and previous presidencies, Santa has cultivated an impressive community online, especially on Twitter and Instagram. Besides his impact on social media, Ono has significantly contributed to the fields of experimental medicine, immunology, and ophthalmology. Thank you, Santa for leading the way.

Frank Wu

President | Queens College

Frank H. Wu has continually broken barriers and blazed trails for others to follow! As president of Queens College and a distinguished professor at various universities, his contributions to academia are creating an impact on generations of students. From serving in various leadership roles as the first Asian American to being a critically acclaimed author and making appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Wu’s accomplishments are truly remarkable.

Rowena Tomaneng

President | San Jose City College

Rowena M. Tomaneng is a true leader in higher education with a passion for social justice and equity. As President of San Jose City College and former President of Berkeley City College, she has launched initiatives like The Berkeley Promise, which aims to close the racial opportunity gap for low-income African American, Asian American, and Latino students. Dr. Tomaneng is also a published author and member of several prestigious organizations, including the Chief Executive Officers of the California Community Colleges Board and the American Association of Community Colleges’ Commission on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity.

L. Song Richardson

President | Colorado College

L. Song Richardson serves as the 14th president of Colorado College and is the first woman of color to hold that role. She is a legal scholar, lawyer, and expert on implicit racial and gender bias, as well as race and policing. Her recognition comes from National Asian Pacific American Bar Association Trailblazer Award and she was named one of the top women lawyers in California. She is well-published and is currently working on a book to address anti-Blackness in the U.S. and its impact on law and policy. In 2020, she was appointed by California Governor Gavin Newsom to the California Penal Code Revision Committee.

Mung Chiang

President | Purdue University

Mung Chiang, is the president of Purdue University and a rockstar in the field of electrical and computer engineering. Chiang has achieved some awe-inspiring feats, from leading Purdue to top rankings in both undergraduate and graduate engineering programs to launching new degrees and quadrupling online program size. And did I mention he’s also an inventor and entrepreneur with 25 U.S. patents AND a diplomate, previously serving as the science and tech advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State?! I’m in awe of all he’s accomplished and thrilled to celebrate his contributions to academia and beyond!

These stories serve as a reminder of the importance of representation and the impact that diverse perspectives can bring to leadership positions.

As we conclude AANHPI Heritage Month, let us reflect on AANHPI higher ed professionals’ incredible contributions and their vital role in academia. From innovative research to transformative teaching, these individuals continue to impact our communities and beyond. Let’s honor their achievements, celebrate their resilience and diversity, and commit to supporting their ongoing efforts toward equity and inclusion in higher education. Thank you for recognizing the importance of AANHPI’s voices and experiences.

Resources and Community

There is a wealth of resources and community in higher education about and for Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander professionals. Check out the organizations and groups below. 

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

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