Spring 2014 Recipient
Jaeyeon "Jenny" Cho
UAA senior Jaeyeon “Jenny” Cho is no stranger to building bridges. No, she’s not an
engineering major; she’s studying biological sciences and preparing for graduate school
and a career in dentistry. But in the midst of working hard towards graduation, Jenny
has also devoted her time to drawing connections between students and cultural organizations,
fostering a more inclusive and diverse environment at UAA.
Class Requirement Opens Doors
As an international student from South Korea who describes herself as “shy,” Jenny
knows both how difficult and how valuable it is to build connections within a new
community. Living off campus with her aunt and uncle, Jenny remembers how “hard it
was at first to get connected” her first year at UAA.
However, a class requirement to complete community service work soon changed that.
Deciding to volunteer at the UAA Multicultural Center, Jenny worked as a student outreach
assistant, raising awareness of diversity within the UAA community. Her position opened
the door to meet students from a variety of backgrounds and to see firsthand how departments
and programs at UAA collaborate to cultivate an inclusive campus.
What began as a requirement soon inspired Jenny to draw “little connections” between
the various facets of her experiences on and off campus. While learning how the Multicultural
Center engages students, Jenny was reminded of her uncle. Jenny spent her high school
years watching her uncle participate in the Korean and Asian communities in Anchorage.
“Even though he is retired, he’s still very busy,” Jenny laughs, “he’s a good example
of building bridges within the community – from meetings for the Asian Alaskan Cultural
Center to working with the Anchorage Korean Language School, he’s actively involved.”
Inspired by her uncle and by the work of the Multicultural Center, Jenny joined with
a few other UAA students to establish the Asian Pacific Islander Community Wellness
Club (APICWC) in fall 2012. Serving terms as APICWC president and vice president,
Jenny helped create, as her mentor Dr. Gabriel Garcia describes, “a student organization
that provides a safe social space for Asians and Pacific Islanders students, which
makes up one of the largest minority groups on campus.”
In the spring of 2013, APICWC coordinated the first-ever celebration of Asian Pacific
Islander Heritage Month at UAA. Through celebratory and cultural events, APICWC invited
community groups to campus, connecting the UAA community to the greater Asian and
Pacific Islander Anchorage community.
Encouraging and Earning Distinction
After completing her community service requirement, Jenny applied for and was hired
by the Multicultural Center. A few years later, Jenny continues to work at the Center,
now as a Distinction Assistant, working to increase the number of underrepresented
students from diverse backgrounds involved in distinction programs such as honor societies,
leadership development programs and service learning.
Due to her leadership in promoting diversity on campus through her work at the Multicultural
Center and in APICWC, Jenny was awarded the distinguished Student Diversity Award
last year by the UAA Diversity Action Council. The award recognizes and empowers students
to lead change in the community. The distinction includes a tuition award to assist
students to continue to provide a strong voice in advancing diversity at UAA.
More is Better
Upon graduating next spring, Jenny plans on attending graduate school and eventually
aspires to set up her practice in dentistry here in Alaska. She’s seen a need for
a bridge between the Asian community in Alaska and navigating dental issues that include
insurance and cultural differences. Eventually, Jenny would like to travel the world,
providing dental services to impoverished communities.
In the meantime, Jenny continues to work for a more inclusive and diverse environment
that appreciates how “UAA is very diverse – in the languages, ages and cultures represented
– and with lots of non-traditional students.” She recounts how UAA consistently holds
cultural celebrations and workshops. But Jenny also points out, “Diversity work is
not just big events, it’s cultivating respect,” she smiles. “And more is better, right?
More active voices in promoting diversity issues would always be good.”
Written by Katie Alley, UAA Office of Student Affairs