SMSE Reflections: Honoring Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

SMSE Celebrates AAPIFeatured left to right: Justin Daus, Tanya Keval, Austin Peters, Brian Lee, Diana Chen, PhD and Jocelyn Kuykendall.

As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month across the nation, it is imperative that we engage in a very intentional dialogue that addresses diversity, equity and inclusion head on. This month, we pause not only to recognize the rich cultural heritage and contributions by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in shaping our nation, but also to discuss triumphs and often underreported challenges, in a conscious effort to elevate awareness and knowledge about the AAPI community. We, at USD’s Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, asked students, alumni, faculty and staff who identify as AAPI to share their experiences and personal reflections in their quest for finding community.

Justin Daus ‘21 (ISyE)

“Being an Asian American/Pacific Islander means very different things now than it did just a few years ago. But what recent hate crimes have done is make us more aware. I’m blessed. Communicating with my AAPI professors during this time allowed us to connect on a deeper level than just instructor and student. It has been, and it still is impossible, to hide away from xenophobia in America. I’m so thankful to find community with my fellow AAPI engineers.”

Tanya Keval ‘ 21 (CS)

“As a South Asian American, I joined SASA (South Asian Student Alliance) in my first year because I didn't see a lot of people on campus who looked like me. I'm so glad to be a part of this club because it has allowed me to converse with other students who have had similar experiences to me and bring me back to my culture. For incoming students, I think finding a group that you feel comfortable being your authentic self with is extremely important.”

Austin Peters ‘22 (IntE, Sustainability)

“As both Asian American and Pacific Islander, I find my identities being misunderstood and misappropriated. For example, you won’t see me answering questions in class or asking professors for help out of humility and respect for elders. These cultural values and nuances have caused others to doubt my ability. However, my professors in the Integrated Engineering department and peers in the multicultural organizations POI and FUSO showed me that my AAPI heritage is my strongest asset and will always be.”

Brian Lee ‘19 (ME)

“I have learned over the years that due to my heritage and culture, despite the contributions that have been made by countless Asian Americans, that we would always have to prove our "American-ness." This has driven me to perform to the best of my abilities and contribute as an engineer in service to the people of this nation.”

Diana Chen, Assistant Professor of Integrated Engineering

"While the feeling of underrepresentation contributes an additional weight for engineering students who are already working through a challenging curriculum, people who come from minoritized backgrounds have an advantage in seeing things from a different perspective. We should celebrate the different realities that we have lived through — which can inspire unique design solutions to various challenges — rather than conform, as it is diversity that leads to creative innovations." 

Jocelyn Kuykendall, SMSE Executive Assistant

"I met my Filipino friends at USD through informal networking. Most people see us working together and helping each other, but we also love to get together to eat, party and celebrate our heritage and traditions. Many are amazed by our friendship and camaraderie, and we never forget to send help to our family and friends back in the Philippines. I encourage everyone to reach out to fellow AAPIs and join the FUSO (Filipino Ugnayan Student Organization) and together learn the culture and heritage and to embrace and be proud to be a Filipino!"  

— Michelle Sztupkay