Georgetown University and The George Washington University co-hosted the 2014 East Coast Asian American Student Union Conference from Feb. 21 to 23, marking the first time since the conference’s inaugural event 37 years ago that the conference was hosted by multiple universities in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.
The panel events, workshops and closing ceremony took place in Georgetown’s Intercultural Center, whereas all other events were held on GWU’s campus.
Since 1977, ECAASU has focused on bringing together college students from the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
“As its official mission statements says, the ECAASU works to inspire and educate attendees through invigorating cultural performances, numerous workshops and several opportunities to interact with several other AAPI advocates across the East Coast,” APIAVote Director Christine Chen said.
The conference, which drew over a thousand Asian American students and advocates, began with an address by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Friday evening at GWU’s Charles E. Smith Center. Saturday’s events, also held in Foggy Bottom, consisted of group workshops. The night was capped with a formal gala at the Grand Hyatt, during which White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford spoke.
Sunday’s events, held on Georgetown’s campus, were based on leadership and professional development.
The event was mainly focused on employment opportunities and experiences for Asian-Americans in the workplace. Georgetown University hosted over 10 workshops, with counseling mentors from diverse backgrounds.
“We need to change the perceptions of Asian- American professionals by some employers,” professor of public communication at American University Scott Talan said. “Branding yourself in a proper way can make potential employers see beyond your Asian stereotypes—stereotypes that can create a lot of stress for Asian-Americans both on and off the workplace.”
Talan also added how crucial the internet is in promoting one’s image to employers and the need to utilize technology accordingly.
“Our lives are becoming more and more connected to the digital world. We can’t ignore that,” Talan said. “That’s why it is especially important to create the right digital brand presence online, since employers are increasingly searching [for] their employees through the Web.”
Pathways Programs Officer at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Piyachat Terrell, a panelist at the event, similarly noted the importance of self-advertising when looking for federal jobs in particular.
“Federal employment opportunities can be a rare opportunity not only for Asian-Americans, but for anyone in general,” Terrell said. “That’s why you need to market yourself properly, and most importantly, look for niche jobs within the federal agencies that you can market your Asian-American identity best.”
Terrell emphasized using the advantage of being both Asian and American, and also cited a need to be proactive in searching for the ideal job.
“The EPA’s goal, ultimately, is to provide access to federal job opportunities and offer environmental education training,” Terrell added. “But it is ultimately you who need to find the appropriate job that you have a comparative advantage in and take advantage of that.”
The relationships forged during the three-day event last far beyond the conclusion of the conference.
“This conference is a great way to meet other Asian American students and form tight-knit relationships with them,” student organizer Grace Tien said. “We are excited to be organizing this year’s event, and I hope many participants will be able to find other peers with similar interests and goals.”
ECAASU Conference Associate Director Annie Yan (MSB ’14) discussed what she hopes participants learned at the conference.
“Our theme this year was ‘Mission Ignition: Champion your Cause’ because we wanted to create a forum of stereotype-breaking discussion, to form a community, and to get people interested in AAPI issues,” Yan said. “We wanted people to experience the social opportunities at the conference, but we also wanted to inspire passion and an engagement in advocacy that helps Asian students feel free to pursue their professional dreams.”
Georgetown students appreciated the advice and expertise shared at the conference.
“Growing up in Tennessee as an Asian-American wasn’t easy, and many people would often expect me to get perfect math or science scores in my high school,” Daniel Kim (COL ’17) said. “I had a hard time dealing with those stereotypes, but this conference helped me a lot with making a brand out of myself so that I can be seen beyond the expectations people might have about me. It was also amazing to share my experiences at a personal level with other peers with similar concerns.”
Correction: Christine Chen is the APIAVote Director, not a panelist and assistant director of the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The theme was “Mission Ignition: Champion Your Cause,” not “Mission Ignition: Championing Your Cause.”