Jason Lee – President of Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers at Purdue University

Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

As a Taiwanese American at Purdue University, I witness the struggles many of my fellow APA peers face when looking for industrial opportunities.

Who are you?

I am a Taiwanese American studying Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University. Currently I am in my 7th semester at school graduating in December as being on internships during the school year has pushed my graduation date back. I was raised in a traditional Taiwanese household and spent half my childhood in Cincinnati, Ohio and the other half in Chicago, Illinois. Growing up I always enjoyed playing sports like tennis, basketball, and soccer. Some hobbies that I also picked up on the way were Chinese Yo-Yo and breakdancing. Every Sunday as a child from Kindergarten to high school, I learned about Chinese history, culture, and language at the Chinese School nearby my house. This is where I met most of my Taiwanese friends as my American school had a very small Taiwanese population.

I believe it wasn’t until college that I fully grasped my identity. Being in a more autonomous environment, I had now a choice of who I wanted to spend my free time as opposed to my parents choosing who I would meet and hang out with. My freshman year I didn’t really put much effort into trying to meet people of Asian descent as I was satisfied with hanging out with non-Asian people, but the years following, I realized that although I was born and raised in America, I love Asian culture – the food, the events, the spirit, so I joined the Asian American Association where I met a lot of people of Asian descent whom I’m still very close with today. Spending time with those members allowed me to both celebrate the Asian cultural side of us as well as the American side that we shared. It was then that I was finally able to bridge the two worlds and find the midpoint to where I belong.

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

Only 1% of Fortune 500 companies are held by Asian-Pacific Americans (APAs). This is a very minute amount considering that APAs have the highest percentage of any racial group in graduating from college – 44% versus the 27% for the average U.S. population. These statistical findings no doubt affirm the intelligence of this race, but in the same token, reveals many APA’s deficiency in behaviors that are highly valued in American culture: aggressiveness and assertiveness. Contrarily, many APAs exemplify behaviors that are strongly pre-disposed to their ethnic background: passiveness and humility. Although these behaviors are not undesirable qualities, they translate to corporate Americans as the inability to stand up for ones beliefs and make his/her own decisions – hence, hindering the possibility of vertical movement within a company.

The mission of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers is to prepare APAs for the global business world. In order to achieve this, besides acting as a network channel, SASE provides events that focus on developing an individual to be globally diverse, meaning SASE’s events would teach students to integrate the values of different cultures and allow them to create their own unique bundled identity.

As a Taiwanese American at Purdue University, I witness the struggles many of my fellow APA peers face when looking for industrial opportunities. As a senior in college now, I have accumulated a total of four internship sessions with two different companies and entering my fifth this summer with another company; my goal within the organization is to help my younger peers develop the qualities that are valued within corporate culture so that they too can be successful in landing industrial opportunities during their school career. I believe that it is crucial for every student to be exposed to the corporate environment before they graduate so they not only have solid lines on their resume but are able to experience an atmosphere that encourages the development of soft skills that would otherwise not be as well sharpened at school. Had I not had these internships, I would definitely have had a more narrow perspective of my discipline and not have had as an effective set of soft skills that I have today.

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

Our organization is relatively new and was just established in Fall 2010. Since its inception, the society has had its ups and downs due to some problems in the management. When I joined the board, there were only three people left of the ten who were in it the semester before. This showed the impact of bad management and how it can break trust – in addition to the loss of many board members, a lot of active members also stopped coming to the events. I knew that if something wasn’t done, this society would fall apart. Therefore, the first thing I did was to establish a vision for our society. I challenged the other board members to ask themselves why they would join and be a member of this society if they were just another Purdue student. Placing them in this position allowed them to think about what they wanted our society to accomplish and what goals we wanted to set. Currently, our membership has increased as well as our board as a result of work that this board’s contributed this semester. I can easily attest that passion played a large role in driving my fellow board members and I to put forth lots of effort to make these events successful.

There is so much potential for this society as many people can benefit from it. We organize professional workshops, invite distinguished professors to speak, set up info sessions for sponsoring companies, service the community, and enhance the global experience. Unfortunately, a lot of Asians do not feel the need to join a society. In Asia, the employment trends seem to more commonly correlate academic credentials to employment as opposed to America where people look at more than just academic standings to judge someone’s ability to be successful at the workplace; they look at industrial experiences, leadership roles in organizations, etc. My hope is that many of the current members in our society will thrive from being a part of it and that their success spreads among their Asian communities, so that other people will see the benefits of joining and growing from it.

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