Our Stories

Student to Attend National Leadership Institute

Anna Kwan '07 was born and raised in Salem, but her family is Chinese, so she grew up learning Chinese culture and speaking Cantonese and English. Yet when she studied in Beijing this past academic year, she was surprised at people's reaction to her.

"They didn't consider me Chinese," she says. "Here, I'm used to people thinking I'm from China or asking me, 'When did you come over?' But there, after I spoke to them a little bit, they would be like, 'Are you from Japan or Korea?' They couldn't tell I was Chinese."

Granted, Kwan's family comes from southern China, where the culture is much different from Beijing and the surrounding northern region. And people in Beijing speak Mandarin, not Kwan's native Cantonese. Plus, Kwan had more of an American mindset, she says.

Kwan just returned from China last month, but she'll soon hop on another plane to make her first trip to the East Coast. Kwan is one of 50 women chosen to be part of the 2006 Collegiate Women of Color Leadership Institute, which starts in August with a four-day program in Baltimore. Two Willamette students were picked for the program; the other is Elvia Mandujano '07.

The institute, sponsored by the Foundation for Independent Higher Education and funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, recruits women of color from 650 private colleges and universities nationwide. The program's goal is to increase gender and ethnic diversity in the workplace while teaching women leadership skills. After completing their junior year, participants attend the summer institute. When they return to school in the fall, they receive a stipend to create and implement a leadership mentoring project on their campus, at a corporation or in their community. They also are paired with a mentor to help them learn more about leadership.

Kwan is a bit overwhelmed and nervous about what she'll be doing through the institute, but she's excited about the opportunity. And although people in Beijing may not have been able to recognize Kwan's Chinese heritage, her culture is a major part of her life, academically and personally.

She is majoring in Chinese Studies, and she is considering education or business as possible career fields. "Seeing that China's economy is on the rise these days, I thought maybe I could do something in that realm," she says.

Kwan traveled to China after receiving an award from Freeman-ASIA, a program that supports American undergraduates planning to study in East or Southeast Asia. She also is in the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and recently was inducted into Willamette's Mortar Board, a national honor society for college seniors with distinguished achievement in scholarship, leadership and service.

She also has shared her heritage with others by teaching a course on Chinese language, culture and art through Saturday Explorations, a program in which Willamette students design classes for local fifth- through eighth-grade students. The five-week program meets for two hours each Saturday on the Willamette campus. "The students wanted to learn a lot, and that was exciting," Kwan says.