The Bridge to Somewhere: PAACH Programs Connect Asian-American Studies to Student Life at the University of Pennsylvania

By Lum, Lydia | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, December 10, 2009 | Go to article overview

The Bridge to Somewhere: PAACH Programs Connect Asian-American Studies to Student Life at the University of Pennsylvania


Lum, Lydia, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


University of Pennsylvania student Joanna Wu recalls this invitation shortly before her freshman year: Would she like an Asian-American upperclassman mentor?

"The overachiever in me was trying to get ahead academically," Wu says with a laugh.

But what she discovered--once she was admitted into one of the signature programs of Penn's Pan-Asian American Community House (PAACH)--was a cornucopia of opportunities for personal growth, leadership training and ethnic-identity exploration.

"My mentor was impressive," says Wu, a 20-year-old junior majoring in biology with minors in chemistry and Asian-American studies. "She influenced me to become more of a leader myself. She helped organize conferences that brought thousands of people to campus. I saw how I could make an impact too."

Since its inception in 2000, PAACH'S education mission has bridged Asian-American studies to student life. PAACH initiatives have helped spread Asian-American diaspora to thousands of Penn students. They have also helped students determine for themselves what it means to be a bicultural person of Asian descent, how to navigate around the model-minority myth and how to break through the so-called bamboo ceiling.

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The two main PAACH programs are Promoting Enriching Experiences and Relationships (PEER) mentoring, in which Wu now oversees freshman-service projects, and the Asian Pacific American Leadership Initiative (APALI). They're open to all Penn students and no fees are charged, but students must apply and admission isn't guaranteed. Enrollment is capped to ensure personal attention. Both programs feature frequent group activities, mandatory-attendance requirements and a menu of provocative discussion topics such as gender stereotypes and affirmative action.

Yet so many students desire admission each year that there is often a waiting list, says PAACH director Dr. June Chu. A waiting list for time-consuming, voluntary endeavors that don't offer course credit? Why?

"They learn things they might not otherwise anywhere else," Chu says. "They want to empower themselves."

Certainly, ethnic resource centers on college campuses are nothing new. PAACH is typical of its counterparts everywhere in offering young adults a home away from home. Chu and two other staff members provide ad hoc advice to students on everything from academics to how to solve problems with parents. Every fall semester, students, who aren't necessarily in APALI or PEER, organize campuswide events and activities for Asian Pacific American Heritage Week, such as fashion shows and celebrity-speaking engagements. …

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