Lester Kao – National President of Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association

Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

I believe a key catalyst to stirring debate about what it means to be Taiwanese American is to build communities that allow students to meet other students of different perspectives.

Who are you?

My name is Lester Kao and I am from Seattle, Washington. I am currently a senior majoring in Economics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. In my spare time, I enjoy photography, visiting museums, and sampling foods from different cultures. I also have an immense interest in public policy with regards to international development and transportation infrastructure. At Hopkins, I am conducting independent research about the economic and societal benefits of high speed rail systems. It is my hope that I can use the outcome of my research to craft a policy proposal for the Northeast Corridor region of the United States. I also hope to pursue a career in the public sector, and I am currently applying to public policy graduate programs in hopes of honing the skills necessary to succeed in the civil service.

Tell us about your organization / project, your role, and its impact?

Over a decade and a half old, the Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association (ITASA) is an organization that provides resources and programs for students in college to better explore their heritage and identity, to help build unity among the various collegiate communities, and to help students develop and hone their leadership skills. As National President, I work with other members of the ITASA National Board to help develop our programs and activities to ensure we remain a valuable resource to all Taiwanese American student groups across the country. I am a firm believer in an organization’s need to give back to its community. This year, I am working with other members of ITASA to develop a philanthropy program that student organizations across the country can participate in. I believe such a program will be valuable as it will help more students across the country engage in the vibrant debate that exists in the greater Taiwanese American community. In addition, I hope to work with other members of the ITASA National Board to further develop our regions, to solidify the bonds between student groups and to build up communities in the regions we serve. I also look forward to working with other Taiwanese American groups as we share common goals.

Where do you find your inspiration and motivation as a student leader?

I think an eagerness to make a difference is what inspires me. Before I joined ITASA, I had an interest in seeing my own TASA at Johns Hopkins interact with other TASA’s in Maryland. One of the reasons why I joined ITASA was to help solidify these bonds. It continues to motivate me until this day. I believe a key catalyst to stirring debate about what it means to be Taiwanese American is to build communities that allow students to meet other students of different perspectives. This is what drives me as a student leader – helping to grow a sense of community, and helping to make a difference.

What is your vision for the organization / project and the role that it may play in the broader community?

I hope down the road that ITASA can serve as a dynamic and valuable resource in every region. ITASA’s nationwide effectiveness hinges on the continued strength of Taiwanese American collegiate communities coast to coast. I hope to work with other organizations to develop programs that motivate and empower students to become active in their own Taiwanese American communities both in college and beyond college. I see ITASA as a stepping stone between Taiwanese American organizations across the country and I believe that collaboration among all of us serves to develop the greater Taiwanese American community here in the United States.

What does the future of Taiwanese America look like to you?

I believe that the future of Taiwanese America looks bright. We are a vibrant community and I hope the vibrant dialogue about what it means to be Taiwanese American can continue in the future. I hope ITASA, along with other groups, can continue to serve as a medium for college students to explore their identity. I also hope ITASA, in working with local partners, can better help develop Taiwanese American communities in regions of the United States that are currently under-served.

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