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Building a Holistic Model for Student Success

Professor Lee brings in a big grant—with an immediate impact on campus
April 14, 2017

Professor Josephine Lee with staff and friends at the Asian Pacific American Resource Center open house

Professor Josephine Lee with staff and friends at the Asian Pacific American Resource Center open house
Asian American College Excellence staff member Ariana Yang, Professor Josephine Lee, AAS Program director Teresa Swartz, and undergraduate Troy Yamaguchi at the AACE open house

Professor Josephine Lee is no stranger to the hard work of creating change. She was instrumental in establishing the University’s Asian American Studies Program in 2004 and served as its first director (in 2006 the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans honored her with its Leadership Award). So it was not surprising to hear last September that she had helped to secure a grant to improve student outcomes for Asian Americans at the University of Minnesota.

Professors Josephine Lee and Bic Ngo
Josephine Lee and Bic Ngo

But the resources the award brings to the University are more than impressive. With principal investigator Bic Ngo, associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development, co-PI Lee received a $1.75 million, five-year grant from the US Department of Education’s Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) Program. “Having this grant will make an immediate impact,” Lee says, “and hopefully have a lasting effect on how we work with all our students, whether or not they are Asian Pacific Americans.

“This grant helps provide ways that the University can better address the particular concerns of APA students, not just about differences in culture, heritage, and language, but also about anti-immigrant feeling, racial marginalization, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and gender/sexuality bias,” Lee continues. “Student success is easier if students don’t feel like they have to leave parts of themselves behind to get a college degree.”

"Student success is easier 
if students don't feel like
they have to leave parts of
themselves behind to get
a college degree."
            - Dr. Josephine Lee

Under Lee and Ngo’s leadership, the Asian American College Excellence (AACE) Project has been charging forward with new programs. An Asian Pacific American Resource Center, offering mentoring and tutoring services and career information, held its initial open house on March 1, filling the Wulling Hall space with students and faculty. Staff members have been hired: Project Director Kong Her, Project Coordinator Peter Limthongviratn, and graduate student assistant Ariana Yang. The AACE speaker series kicks off March 21 with Taz Ahmed and Zahra Noorbakhsh, co-hosts of the #GoodMuslimBadMuslim Podcast. A youth summit with workshops and networking opportunities engages students April 1.

According to Professor Lee, the staff is planning a digital stories collection, library resources, and programs for orientation and recruitment. “We are also looking to connect with other support structures for APA students,” Lee says; “we are particularly interested in building scholarships and other funding that will directly support students.

“Our student body includes a significant number of Asian Pacific American students who do not fit that ‘model minority’ profile of Asian American socioeconomic success and academic achievement. The support for these students, along with other forms of support for public education, is sadly shrinking even while populations are growing.”

Crowd at the APA Resource Center open house
The APA Resource Center open house March 1

At the same time, Lee is working with Asian American Studies Director Teresa Swartz to build new classes on Asian American popular culture, visual images, and theater arts into the program's permanent course offerings.


Lee and Ngo met as AAS colleagues, and Lee credits AAS faculty and staff for their help in the grant process, along with the University’s Office of Equity and Diversity. “This process has been delightfully collaborative,” Lee notes. “So many people are on the same page that we need more resources to support our students, and that we need to work together to make these connections happen.”

To be eligible for an AANAPISI grant the University first had to prove that Asian American/Pacific Islander Americans make up at least 10 percent of its student body and that it serves low-income students. The majority of the AANAPISI program awards, Professor Lee says, tend to go to community colleges and teaching-oriented colleges and universities. “I think what helped in getting the grant,” she observes, “was affirming that the U is also a land-grant university with an obligation to serve the public good.”