The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


SMU hosts area high schoolers

Months of work came to fruition last weekend as the Asian American Leadership Educational Conference saw 165 high-school students travel to SMU’s campus for the two-day event.

It’s the biggest number of participants since the conference’s inception nine years ago, according to AALEC Chair Lien Dang.

About 50 volunteers from SMU and other colleges pitched in, with some 35 students serving as “Homebase Leaders” who provided mentoring to the students on Friday and Saturday.

Students were divided into homebase groups of 13 or 14. These smaller groups participated in team-building exercises and smaller activities between the larger lectures, said Dang.

She described the conference as “an opportunity for young, Asian American high-school students all over the DFW area to build a network of friends.”

She added that students participate in educational workshops, listen to speakers, and work on leadership skills. AALEC also gave three participants scholarships, two AALEC scholarships worth $300 and one nationawide sponsored scholarship worth $500.

“As minorities, many Asian Americans may feel intimidatede or discouraged about becoming leaders in the real world,” said Dang. “We want them to realize that there are many opportunities out there for minorities; you just have to believe in yourself and go with it.”

Like many of the student leaders, John Mak participated in the conference in high school. Now a first-year at SMU, Mak says he got involved again because he like to meet new people.

“It’s very interesting to see a big group of Asian Americans together,” he said. “It’s fun to be involved in.”

AALEC Vice Chair Sarah Pham said the sessions were all about “stepping out of your bubble and your boundaries.”

Workshops had titles like “Embrace Your Ethnicity,” “Inclusive Leadership” and “Global Business in China.”

The conference also included presentations from Frito-Lay representatives and PricewaterhouseCoopers about business and networking.

Anthony Ngo, an 18-year-old senior from Plano East Senior High, said he enjoyed the Frito-Lay presentation.

“The speaker talked about embracing yourself and how he got to where he was,” said Ngo. “It was really inspiring.”

The itinerary for the conference reads like a who’s who of Asian-American leaders.

Phillip Shinoda, the keynote speaker, was a candidate for the Texas House of Representatives last fall and has served on boards for the Dallas Museum of Art, the Better Business Bureau, the Sixth Floor Museum, and was a member of the Dallas Citizens Council.

Alec Park founded the conference and came back to speak at a workshop this year.

The idea came about, said Dang, when Park and Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Caswell got together to figure out a way to connect minorities from different universities.

From there, the idea of giving high-school students leadership skills evolved.

Park flew in from New Jersey to surprise Caswell and award him the AALEC Supporter of the Year award.

But the conference wasn’t all about lectures and networking.

Asian musical group Tatum Jones (formerly At Last, finalists from “America’s Got Talent”) performed at the Dedman Center Friday afternoon, followed by a casino party and a prize auction.

Michelle Wigianto, one of the Home Base Leaders, sported a skull-and-crossbones eye patch on her wrist.

Each of the 13 groups had a theme chosen by the college leaders – something Wigianto says helped lighten the mood.

“Group 3 went with ‘The 300’ and had embossed army tags for everyone,” she said.

Wigianto is a returning volunteer and lauds the conference for its uniqueness.

“There’s nothing like it in the Southwest,” she said.

“No other program gets together such disparate communities – every group of Asian you can imagine is together,” added Wigianto.

Diana Pham, an 18-year-old Mansfield Summit student and one of the scholarship winners, said she enjoyed the feeling of togetherness at the conference.

“Everybody gets along,” she said.

The conference did have a downside, though.

“I’m really sad it’s just a day and a half,” said Ngo.

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