Homecoming Hire: Sou Fang '15 Returns to Direct USD Upward Bound's Next Generation

Homecoming Hire: Sou Fang '15 Returns to Direct USD Upward Bound's Next Generation

Upward Bound, one of three University of San Diego TRIO programs under the direction of the Institute of College Initiatives (ICI), is aptly named. Its objective is the same here as it is among 966 Upward Bound programs nationwide — to build an educational and multicultural learning community of students with a desire to participate in higher education.

While there are similarities among all program affiliates — participants are first-generation college-bound students, come from low-income families and underrepresented groups — two traits make Upward Bound at USD what it is and what it can be.

One, its community outreach is exclusive to Linda Vista, home of USD’s campus, working solely with Kearny High School students. USD has a space at Kearny to maintain a connection year-round.

Second is the hiring of Sou Fang as the USD program’s new director. Fang embodies everything Upward Bound strives to be, according to Cynthia Villis, PhD, Assistant Provost for ICI and USD TRIO. When Fang’s hiring was announced, it was homecoming celebration worthy.

A Homecoming-Like Hire

Fang is a 2015 alumnus of USD with a BA in architecture, a graduate of Kearny High and an alum of USD TRIO’s Upward Bound, Student Support Services and McNair Scholars programs. He has twice worked with the USD Upward Bound Summer program, presided over Linda Vista Dollars for Scholars program and most recently worked with Upward Bound students in the entrepreneurial Future Boss program. Fang, Villis said, is the first USD TRIO alumnus to direct a USD TRIO program.

Fang grew up in Linda Vista after coming to the United States at age 2. His family, originally from Laos, left a refugee camp in Thailand, prior to coming to the U.S. He is one of five siblings who has participated in the USD Upward Bound program.

Tou Fang was in the first class in 1999 through 2003. Ger Fang was in UB from 2002-05, Sou from 2006-10, Long Christopher Fang from 2009-12 and Steven Fang from 2010-13. All five went onto to college locally. Sou is the only one to attend USD while Tou went to UC San Diego, Ger and Long went to San Diego State University and Steven was at CSU San Marcos.

"I’m really happy to be back in San Diego and at the University of San Diego," Fang said. "This is the third week of Upward Bound's summer program and the biggest part was transitioning to the program being online (due to COVID-19). I'm amazed at the energy of our students and their engagement online, but it gives me energy, too."

He's still unpacking boxes in his office and hasn’t put anything on the walls, but then this hasn’t been a typical summer, either.

Adjusting to a COVID-19 (Virtual) Summer

Typically, Upward Bound has 50 students on campus during the summer. Remote learning is serving 24. Summer on campus means students stay in USD's residence halls with meals and activities. Academic courses for math, foreign language, literature, composition and lab sciences are still happening, but online. Field trips in and around San Diego and visits to area college campuses aren’t taking place.

"Upward Bound provides great exposure and opportunity," said Fang while recalling previous summers. "For many students it might be their first time out of the house. When I did Upward Bound, I was on a boat for the first time, I saw my first Padres game and I ate my first hot dog."

In 2020, online students are doing yoga, painting and cooking classes. Students have been loaned laptops equipped with software to learn and utilize.

"Our students have been very active," he said. "They are always excited to hear what they'll be cooking and they've really enjoyed learning French. Doing this for the first time, it’s great to see them engaged."

Fang’s return to USD was only six weeks ago. He credits his colleagues, notably interim director and retention specialist Kristina Tea, for making his transition in so smooth. The USD Upward Bound team of 13 includes five USD Upward Bound alumni, two USD alumni and three current graduate students enrolled in the School for Leadership and Education Sciences’ master’s degree in education.

New York Experience, But Opportunity is in San Diego 

Fang had been living, working and attending graduate school in New York since 2015. He completed the master of architecture program (MArch) at Syracuse University, taught there as an adjunct professor, worked as a professional architect and co-founded and directed AUDTT, an academic group that investigates architecture, urbanism, real estate, and economics.

But when Villis reached out to assess Fang's interest in the Upward Bound position, he was ready to come back home. His acceptance included a desire to give back to a program that gave him, his siblings, and others, so much.

A 1999 grant launched Upward Bound at USD. When Villis landed the initial award from the U.S. Department of Education and USD, she envisioned Linda Vista, a multicultural community with 39 languages spoken, as ideal.

"A program like Upward Bound was critical to me becoming a scholar," Fang said. "It introduced me to a lot of things, to look and see what the opportunities were. Upward Bound, going to USD and being in the McNair program opened a number of doors for me."

Villis has been present for Fang's complete rise.

"Sou is creative, thoughtful and kind. As a student, he's experienced all of USD’s TRIO programs. As a professional, he understands them in the context of community at USD and in Linda Vista,” she said. “Sou values USD's bond with the families of Linda Vista, perhaps, more than most. He grew up here. And Sou has always had the courage to step forward into opportunity. ... I think Sou will be great in this most recent challenge as USD's Upward Bound director. I know our high school students are gaining an exceptional role model."


Another USD person close to Fang is Can Bilsel, PhD, professor and director of USD's Architecture Program. He's known Fang since spring 2011 and worked with him in multiple classes, including a summer study abroad course on the history of Istanbul, Turkey, and working with him in the architectural research studio. They worked closely in summer 2014 when Fang was a McNair Scholar and Bilsel his academic advisor and primary research supervisor. His McNair project centered on rapid urbanization in the developing world, particularly Istanbul.

The trip to Istanbul meant a lot to Fang. He gave a public presentation, titled, “Political Economy of Mass Housing in Istanbul,” alongside USD peers and classmates, including Paul Short (above photo), during a special event hosted by USD’s Architecture Program in 2014.

“For me, being in Istanbul was a very personal and emotional experience because I saw a lot of me there," Fang said in 2014. "I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. I remember my mom sewing things. When I went to Istanbul, that's what I saw. I'd see women outside their house sewing things, being covered, all of these socio-economic and political inequalities. I had to keep to myself and know that I am there to work, to be a better person and try to develop and understand the concepts.”

Fang also did an undergraduate summer experience in architecture at Harvard University.

Leadership wise at USD, Fang was student director of the American Institute of Architects, California Council, and an active member of USD’s visual arts and architecture student organizations.

"Sou is one of the most remarkable students I've had the pleasure of teaching," Bilsel said. "He did not have many privileges and opportunities his peers had prior to joining our university. But he was an exceptionally motivated student who was mature beyond his years. After four years of hard work at USD, I am delighted that Sou became one of our most accomplished students and who excelled in advance research and has demonstrated exceptional leadership skills."

Upward Bound was Fang's foundation through high school and toward college. Taking on architecture as his major he often saw it as a subject with more to it than what it seemed to most. It wasn’t just designing, but rather seeing it from multiple sides such as social justice, urbanization, business, politically and more. After living most of his life in San Diego, his move to New York gave him new perspectives on his discipline.

Fang saw the Upward Bound opportunity as a chance to bring his academic and professional development home and to pass on his knowledge to young students to help with the creation of their foundation.

“Fortunately, I’m interested in anything they might be interested in. Psychology? Philosophy? STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)? It’s all right up my alley. I can talk about it. I appreciate the curriculum I had at USD. A theology course was one of the best classes I took because it was about exposure, not indoctrination,” Fang said. “My exposure to knowledge is multidisciplinary. I want to try and get them interested in the many routes of education.”

As a TRIO program, USD Upward Bound is currently working on a grant cycle that has a couple of years to go. Reapplying for new funds begin a year out. While summer is the current priority, looking into the future is important but not as much as what he can do right now.

“When I accepted this position, my goal was to stay and grow into it. Upward Bound is a dear program to me. I’m lucky to be in this role and to continue my growth. We’ll see where it goes.”

Upward bound, for sure.

— Ryan T. Blystone

Alumnus Sou Fang has returned to USD as director of Upward Bound, a program that seeks to help Kearny High students develop and succeed in higher education. Fang is a USD Upward Bound alumnus, too.Alumnus Sou Fang has returned to USD as director of Upward Bound, a program that seeks to help Kearny High students develop and succeed in higher education. Fang is a USD Upward Bound alumnus, too.

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