The First National Celebration of Asian Heritage Scientists & Engineers: SASE Connects!

By Andrea Stith, Ph.D.

The first annual meeting of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE) was indeed a grand affair. Worthy of the theme “Inspiring Excellence”, the event was full of star power and community enthusiasm throughout the September 30th weekend in Baltimore, Maryland.

Seeking to improve the recruitment, retention, and development of Asian heritage scientists and engineers the Procter & Gamble (P&G) Company founded SASE in 2007. Since then, SASE has grown nationwide to include 28 collegiate chapters and one professional chapter in Cincinnati, Ohio. Of these chapters, 24 were in attendance at this inaugural conference.

SASE’s Purpose: Reaching Your Full Potential

The organization’s mission includes preparing members for success in the global business world, celebrating diversity on campuses and in the workplace, and providing opportunities for members to make contributions to their local communities. Much like other diversity science organizations, membership is open to individuals of all ethnic backgrounds.

While an event of this magnitude required significant commitment and organization behind the scenes, the involvement and dedication of the leadership and student volunteers were palpable during the annual conference and ensuing career fair.

Jeff Park, president of the University of Virginia SASE chapter, felt that he and his fellow student organizers “made history”. He went on to say, “SASE’s purpose was well represented…Different life experiences and successful stories inspired young Asian-American leaders to strive for greatness and not be subdued by negative stereotypes and perceptions that surrounds us today”.

According to Executive Director John Cheng (at right with author A. Stith), SASE will continue to thrive in the future because the organization addresses an important professional development opportunity. SASE offers Asian heritage scientists and engineers customized training to prepare them for success in the global business world. The benefits of this training provide significant value to the community of individuals and corporations that SASE serves.

By leveraging cultural and personal strengths, the approximately 170 student attendees were challenged to think about how others perceive them in the context of their heritage. They joined in frank discussions of the impact of racial stereotypes on their career advancement, and its effect on personal and professional satisfaction. Speakers shared strategies and methods to avoid being pigeonholed and emphasized that by releasing such cultural and ethnic paradigms, students would be better able to act and achieve as individuals. Such skills were put into practice at the career fair on Saturday where students could network with over 25 exhibitors including the lead sponsors P&G and GE.

Keynotes & Workshops: Professionals, Scientists, and Comedy

Demonstration of career achievement was not limited to the purview of trained scientists and successful businessmen. Keynote speakers included Bal Arneson, host of her television cooking show “Spice Goddess”; Michael Chen, President of NBC News’ Strategic Initiative Group & Education Nation, and the materials engineer turned comedian Rajiv Satyal (aka “The Funny Indian”).

Workshops covered career topics such as making the most of intern and co-op experiences, interviewing tips and techniques, becoming a key leader in global business, and getting the most from a career fair. Additional topics included the science of designing consumer projects, how world-class production systems are implemented in corporations, and methods for speaking with power and authority.

In “Personal Branding”, comedian Rajiv Satyal used humor and personal experience to relay his message. His stark and successful career change shows how, with consistency, intention, and savvy, anyone can develop their own personal brand. In the session “Strategizing for Success: Understanding Your Cultural Values”, Jane Hyun and Audrey S. Lee, both expert executive coaches, provided strategies for “Breaking through the Bamboo Ceiling”.

An additional highlight was the panel consisting of the the organization’s four founding board members where Shekhar Mitra, Tom Fernandez, Suyin Copley, and Aimin Huang conveyed their commitment to SASE and shared many pearls of wisdom. They emphasized the on-going need for more scientists and engineers of Asian heritage to succeed in technological and business environments. While well regarded as intelligent and hardworking, these positive perceptions have yet to help a representative number of Asian-heritage scientists and engineers secure top leadership positions.

This dilemma presents SASE members with a strong sense of purpose that can be realized through both chapter and national activity. One speaker summed up the spirit of SASE to impact the community by saying, “If we have made it this far, how can we not give back?” The next celebration and national SASE conference will occur the weekend of October 18, 2012.

Author Andrea Stith with students from the University of Virginia SASE chapter: (left to right) Hyun Ji, Jin Kyung Kim, A. Stith, Wing Wong, Celine Heckel-Jones, Benjamin Popovich. This chapter served as student organizers for the SASE conference.

Students from the Colorado School of Mines SASE Chapter made the above video of their conference experience. For a more light-hearted view, check out their other conference video diary.

Andrea Stith, Ph.D., is a Freelance Writer and International Higher Education Consultant. Any opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

Photo credit: A. Stith; Video credit: Julie Thao
The citation for this article is:
A. Stith (2011) The First National Celebration of Asian Heritage Scientists & Engineers: SASE Connects!
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Published 25-Oct-2011