In celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander month, we hosted a panel featuring successful Asian American leaders throughout the Temple and Philadelphia community. Each panelist offered their own unique experiences as to how their identity as a minority helped better shape their future.
Thomas Fung: Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at the Fox School of Business, and a current board member of NAAAP Philadelphia
Melissa Lee: Cofounder and CEO of The GREEN Program which creates experiential, study-abroad education programs focused on sustainability
Jillian Hammer: President of Temple University Asian Student Association (TUASA), and board member of the Temple Asian Student Council (TASC)
How did your heritage shape your experience?
Thomas Fung: I moved to America from Hong Kong in the 1980’s when the model was assimilation. In college, we’re not taught about the corporate world and how to succeed in it. From the 30 years I spent working in corporate, I learned that it’s a series of self-discovery. It’s about getting to know the right people and honing in ways to build your own social capital. Networking is not about brown-nosing, but about getting to know the right people.
Melissa Lee: I grew up as a second generation Chinese-Malaysian and went to Rutgers New Brunswick. Heritage comes with positives and negatives, like unfortunate stereotypes, in the social and professional context. However, it is what sets you apart from other people. Growing up, I did not speak back to my parents in our language and that is something I truly regret since I can’t speak it anymore. In the end, it all comes down to how you carry yourself.
Jillian: I was adopted from China and grew up with white parents. That lack of an Asian heritage made me feel like I was an imposter when I was taking a leadership role for ASA. However, as a minority inside another minority group, I use my greater insight by focusing on issues in ASA like the LGBT community in the Asian community.
What motivates you to continue to be a leader?
Melissa: My career means really adding a milestone to students’ careers. This isn’t just a day job because it’s much bigger than me and affects so many people; that is what motivates me to keep working hard. Being a leader also doesn’t mean getting your dream job right off the bat, but growing in one’s position and making something better.
Thomas: I want to focus on the definition of a leader. You don’t need followers to be a leader, so do your best no matter who is watching. Another important factor is marketing since a leader should really tell a story that connects with others. Another important factor in the corporate world is teamwork, where one is willing to step in when no one else will.
Jillian: I think it’s really hard to find motivation. As the head [of TUASA] and being involved in many organizations, it’s stressful but I know my involvement affects other people. There are definitely times where I wanted to throw in the towel, but I know that if I do, other will have to pick up my slack. Additionally, if at least one person is positively affected, it makes it worth it.
How do you seek mentorship from people?
Jillian: I’m not too sure about all the professional etiquette but I approach the people in my life who help me grow through friendship.
Melissa: I think the idea of mentorship can be glamorized but it can be from anybody. It’s anyone who keeps you accountable and doesn’t expect anything less from you. There is so much power in questions and it’s all about strategically asking questions that can lead you in the right direction. Even if it’s just getting coffee and catching up.
Thomas: There’s also this thing about reverse mentoring where I find someone who can teach me about anything in life without a specific position. Part of mentorship that should be emphasized is something as simple as making [yourself] presentable and staying in touch with people. The janitor on the fifth floor of Alter is my mentor! He helped me get the landscape of all of Temple and helped me when I first came. Don’t formalize it. If it happens, it happens.
If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be?
Thomas: I think when I look back I was too conservative and was always seeking approval. The idea of matrix managing, we always seek to do the best in one thing. At your age, look comfortable even when you’re not. Invariably, you might get jobs that you won’t want, but doing the job well shows that you can do anything and it helps build your reputation.
Melissa: I think I would be more confident in my capabilities. I never took formal business classes, but I knew information through conversations with people I work with. There were things that seemed forced in terms of getting started with my business but being confident in myself with who I want to work with definitely came to mind. Be confident in what path I wanted to choose and those who I knew would work well with me. I started the company with three other business students and I trusted them with all the decisions but now I do all of the choices. Sometimes the mind switches confidence with competence. There’s a lot of gut instinct. Additionally, do something that’s a little different. Take time to learn to play piano, guitar, or sport. They all come into play even in the professional field. It’s all about setting yourself apart from someone else.
Jillian: Like I said earlier, since I was adopted, I tried to fit in so much with others and that takes a toll on you as a person. My advice would be to surround yourself with healthier people. It’s so important to find a team that have the same mission as you. It’s the people. I’m a leader but it’s all possible with the people behind me.