Thoughts on forging an individual path through college, and more!

Springtime in Chicago

The first signs of spring are always welcome here in the Midwest, where winters are long and gloomy. However, we at ML-SAAF know that springtime can also bring anxiety for many of you -- specifically, those college-bound seniors who are waiting for a response from the colleges to which you've applied. It might be difficult right now to imagine  anything more important than what college you will attend. 

And yet, the data shows us that "success" in life is tied to more than merely what college you attend. In fact, one of ML-SAAF's goals is to explore the many different ways that Asian American youth have positive outcomes in life. In this issue, we will share participant data on grades and parent-child conflict, as well as a thoughtful Q&A with Deborah Hwang regarding forging an authentic path in academics and in life.

Calling all participants! Beginning  April , ML-SAAF will launch Round 2 of its research study. This means you will receive an email with a li nk to an online survey, with an option to receive a paper survey if you prefer. You
Image courtesy of The Good The Dad and T he Baby
will also receive a phone call from an ML-SAAF interviewer to talk to you about the  online survey. 

ML-SAAF is one of the rare longitudinal studies on Asian Americans in the Midwest, and
your continued engagement will add to our understanding of our community, as well as promote further research among Asian Americans. 

Please contact if you have any questions or concerns. 
Deborah Hwang has been a research assistant with ML-SAAF since February 2015. Deborah's work at ML-SAAF has ranged from  data entry to project management. 

Debor ah graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in history and certificates in Education Policy Studies and Asian American Studies. She is currently in her first year of the master's program at the University of Chicago's School of Social Services Administration (SSA). Deborah hopes to serve the Asian American community in an urban setting upon graduation.  

Born outside of Chicago and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, Deborah has unique insight into life as an Asian American in the Midwest. Below, she talks about her path to SSA. 

You took some unique classes in college and are now at SSA, which seems a bit off the beaten track for many of us. How did you end up here?

I was incredibly fortunate that my parents did not pressure me to pursue any major or occupation, like premed. Instead, in college, I was able to study only subjects that interested me without any preoccupation of how it would translate into a job or economic stability (parents, I know this sounds stress-inducing, but I promise that it will be worth it).  I had already taken many classes across disciplines as well as pre-med courses just in case I decided to become a doctor. But none of these courses provided any clarity about what I wanted to do. I decided to go through the course catalogue and pick out courses that genuinely sounded interesting to me, not ones that fulfilled premed requirements or translated into a steady job.  Some questions that I had while I was going through the cour se catalogue was, "Who am I as an Asian American, and what does that mean? Why did my education take a certain shape, while there are radically alternative forms of education?" As I kept taking courses that interested me, they created more questions, which created deeper interest, which led to more courses. In this cycle, I started to automatically fulfill requirements for a History major, and two minors in Asian American studies and Education Policy studies by the time that I was a junior. The best part about this was that every single class that I took was meaningful to me and I chose it because I wanted to learn about it. I was not stressed out about fulfilling course requirements before I graduated, as it happened naturally, or taking extra classes outside of my interest, which requires a lot of effort to invest in.

How has pursuing your own interests in college 
Deborah, age 4
- an idea that might be intimidating to many of us -  affected your experience as an Asian American?

Growing up, I was fairl y shy in the classroom; I barely rose my hand and spoke up. It was intimidating to reach out to teachers. School only felt like a never-ending series of hoops to jump through that didn't engage my mind. I also lacked community because there were very few Asian Americans while I was growing up.  As I started to take courses on Asian American studies, I found the ideas and words to deconstruct my experiences growing up in the Midwest, which greatly differs from the Asian American experience on either coast.  Learning became fun and speaking up was no longer daunting, as I could use my personal experiences to understand complex ideas and critical social theories. I started reaching out to a community of other Asian American students, which led to leading a campus organization for two years as a co-president. I developed skills in leadership and public speaking, and an even greater passion to serve the Asian American community. I was also able to develop relationships with professors who provided mentorship, support, and even opportunities to work with them on independe nt studies.

Can you share any advice for high school students as they look towards college?

I share my story to contrast predominant ideas of young Asian Americans feeling like they need to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, or business men and women, to contribute to society. While these professions are highly regarded and provide economic stability, there are so many areas in society that are lacking and in need of an Asian American presence and voice, like music, art, and food which creates culture and expression of our identities. There are several issues in society heavily impacting our community, like immigration and education, that need Asian American social workers, policymakers, and non-profit managers to represent our needs while creating solutions. I would encourage high school students to explore broadly as they cultivate their interests.  Today, many of my peers have jobs that do not engage their passion or interests and, as a result, they're losing investment in their work. Instead, if the opportunity is provided for a person to tap into their interests, they're able to utilize and develop their natural gifts, and create a happy and fulfilling life that contributes to our society in multifaceted ways. As the saying goes, where there's a will, there's a way (even for a job), but the interest needs to spark and develop before it becomes a will.
Most of us might intuitively guess that relational conflict negatively impacts our grades in school. But does the research back it up? According to ML-SAAF's participant data, yes. See below for more details. 
Youth participants were asked, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "Almost Never" and 5 being "Almost Always", how often do the following occur to you?
  • My mom and I get angry at each other
  • My mom and I argue about rules.
  • My mom never listens to my side of the story.
  • My mom nags at me a lot
Korean  youth reported an average score of 2.22 across all questions, while  Filipino  youth  reported a slightly higher  average score of 2.44. In other words, on average, both Koreans and Filipinos reported that they experience parental-child conflict somewhere between "Sometimes" and "Frequently."

Simple correlation analysis showed that
less conflict was linked to better grades It also showed that Filipino youths' grades are more affected by parent-child conflict than those of Korean youth.

Be sure to check out our next newsletter for more data from Round 1 of the ML-SAAF study!
Midwest Longitudinal Study of Asian American Families | The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration  | |