May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to honor their contributions and rich heritage. Learn about the many ways you can celebrate the month here:
Tell us about your programs and how they support and empower Asian American and Pacific Islander (APIA) students?
At APIA Scholars, we aspire for our students to lead authentically as they become the next generation of professionals, innovators, and advocates. The programs we design and deliver aim to develop the skills and abilities for our students to reach these aspirations. We firmly believe that in order to create change, we must educate our community both at the individual and systemic levels to improve outcomes for the APIA community and our broader society. At APIA Scholars, we describe this mission as “Educate, Elevate, Empower.”
Educate: We remove barriers to postsecondary access and success for low-income underrepresented APIA students, serving as the foundation of their future life success.
Elevate: We raise visibility and uplift the stories of our diverse Scholars and Alumni while building coalitions with other communities traditionally marginalized in higher education and leadership.
Empower: We expand knowledge through research and collaborate across sectors to achieve systemic change, envisioning a future of APIA representation, inclusion, and equity.
How do your mentorship programs support APIA Scholars as they transition to college and then to career?
Through a partnership with Mentor Collective, our peer and professional mentorship programs facilitate virtual mentorships between Scholars, Alumni, and professionals who work together to develop strategies for personal and professional success. Peer mentors accompany first-year Scholars in their transition into college by providing guidance on using campus resources, navigating the rigors of higher education, and finding community on campus. Professional mentors support Scholars in their transition into the workforce by supporting APIA early professionals in crafting strong resumes and LinkedIn profiles, acing the interview process, and cultivating a professional network. In 2020, nearly 440 of our APIA Scholars and Alumni participated as mentees in our mentorship programs. Since we formed the first mentoring pairs in 2014, more than 1,400 Scholars have been provided mentorship.
The greatest benefit [of participating in the APIA Scholars mentoring program] was helping an APIA Scholar understand that he is not alone and that I will always be there to support him, even after the program ends. —APIA Scholar, Peer Mentor
More information about the SMART program here.
In what ways have you pivoted to help Asian American and Pacific Islander students in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that at any moment we may face unforeseen challenges affecting Scholar access to and success in higher education. By ensuring that our Emergency Fund is available to our Scholars, we will feel confident in our ability to guide our community and stay true to the fact that we are a partner in education no matter what. We look to ensure that our Emergency Fund is available to provide a sustainable response. Since March 2020, APIA Scholars awarded our scholars nearly $300,000 from the Emergency Fund to continue their access to education.
But more than serving in the immediate is preparing for the future and shaping the society we want to be part of and contribute to. While we know the violence toward, colonization, and exclusion of the APIA community have existed for centuries, recently we are witnessing the increased attacks towards the APIA community. At the same time, more of our Scholars and Alumni are interrogating and committing to dismantling white supremacy in their homes, universities, and workplaces. Diverse, low-income, first-generation college students benefit from resources that ensure they succeed through college with a sense of belonging, minimal student debt and meaningful credentials. APIA Scholars looks to partner with funders to help provide these types of resources to ensure the wellness, stability, and growth of our community.
As equity and inclusiveness in education and places of employment become an ever-growing issue, we want to ensure that APIAs are at the table for public policy conversations. By engaging diverse partners in our research and broadly disseminating our work to achieve systemic change, we will create a legacy for our community and pave the way for aspiring APIA leaders.
Learn more about our President’s State of Solidarity.
What is important to know about the students you serve?
At 20 million strong—nearly 6 percent of the U.S. population, and on track to being the largest immigrant group in the U.S. by 2055—Asian and Pacific Islander Americans have a powerful role in the future success of this country. Our growing student community of APIA Scholars and alumni represent the next generation of leaders shaping government, corporations, and institutions. Since APIA Scholars was founded in 2003, we have served more than 7,000 students. Among the 2020-21 cohort of students, 65 percent are first-generation college students and more than 70 percent live at or below the poverty line. Through their lived experiences and educational achievements, our students have a strength of culture, drive, and passion to pursue equitable outcomes for all. APIA Scholars is honored to play a role in supporting our students on their academic and career journeys. It is our mission to make a difference in the lives of APIA students by providing them with resources that increase their access to higher education which serves as the foundation for their future success and contributions to a more vibrant America.
Did you serve as a volunteer at some point in your life? If yes, what value did you find from it? What did it mean to you?
Yes! As a first-generation college student, I know the importance of giving back to the mentors, programs, and support structures that have enabled my success. My career as a nonprofit leader and social entrepreneur has enabled me to coach young managers and teams to outcomes in educational organizations, including Teach For India where I spent the summer with their training staff. What I find most valuable about being a volunteer is that l walk away learning more about myself than any advice or suggestion I ultimately offer.
As an educator, Shyam R. Gadwal thinks and acts so that more young adults live into their limitless potential by discussing their identity and analyzing power. As the vice president of programs at APIA Scholars, he leads an amazing team dedicated to the college and career success of APIA students and young professionals. He believes the best way to elevate the APIA community is through education. You can connect with him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/shyamrgadwal/