Dare to Empower

Group photo of the 2017 Midwest Regional Conference attendees.

9. That’s the number of SASE conferences I have now attended. Some may call me crazy, others may call me obsessed; But duty calls, and when an organization has invested heavily in you (and you, in it), then a 3-hour drive is a very small ask.

And hey, with 9 under my belt, I’ve inadvertently set myself up to coincide my 10th conference with SASE’s 10 Year Anniversary National Conference in Northwest Chicago.

Enough about me. On to Columbus!

The huge oval area overlooked by Thompson library. I don’t go here, okay? Photo credit.


First of all, a confession: This wasn’t my first rodeo around the OSU campus. Nor my second. As such, you’ll have to look elsewhere for a description of their gorgeous campus. In short: It’s beautiful, and it’s huge; a lot more spread out than Purdue’s compact, red-bricked home campus.

In fact, my first SASE conference was the 2013 Regional Conference here in Columbus. In many ways, it felt very much like a homecoming and a full circle; but again, I digress.

After picking Randy and Chris up from the Columbus airport, and Jonathan from his friend’s house (my regional teammates), we hit up Los Guachos Taquerias for their excellent tacos — shout-out for the recommendation — before heading to the Ohio State Union for the welcome ceremony.

Registration was a breeze, and the ‘ceremony’ was a simple welcome accompanied by pizza, board games, and an a capella performance — leaving plenty of time to reconnect and meet the other early attendees. Afterwards, we all returned straight to our hotels to catch a good night’s sleep.

Just kidding, that last sentence was a complete lie.

The next morning, we were wisely given unlimited bacon, eggs, and coffee to counteract any lingering tiredness.

Conference: Breakfast

The conference proper started off with breakfast and a welcome by our hosts, Raghav and Josh. The SASE OSU Chapter’s advisor, Dr. Shaurya Prakash, went up to set the stage for he morning’s keynote speaker. Having only recently taken up the mantle, I was very impressed by Dr. Prakash’s knowledge of the SASE mission and history.

The morning keynote session.

The man of the hour, Tom Fernandez, should be a very familiar face to every SASE member. Co-founder and Secretary of the Board of Directors, Tom has dedicated a huge portion of his life towards advancing Asian leadership and representation in corporate America.

Tom Fernandez presenting his morning keynote.

In his keynote speech, Tom gave a quick background of SASE history, looking back at is formation 10 years ago and the factors that led to it. He then pivoted to a look to the future: Where will SASE be in another decade? His goals are ambitious, to say the least: 250 Collegiate Chapters, 50 Employee Resource Groups, 500 CEOs, 10,000 Active Members, 1,000 Volunteers. My fellow volunteers and I sure have our work cut out for us. Tom also made his keynote engaging by running a live SASE quiz on-screen with every single attendee; think QuizUp with 110 participants. Some of the questions were “Which of the following is not one of the pillars of SASE?” and “When was SASE founded?”. Apparently, we have his second daughter to thank for the innovative idea!

Conference: Workshops

Attendees were given the opportunity to attend 3 workshop sessions. I’ll write a short summary of what I learned from the 3 I attended.

Workshop 1: Full Circle Service Learning by Diana Xu

Fluffy blankets from the service learning workshop. Photo courtesy of Diana Xu.

Truthfully, I attended this workshop purely to support my Regional Manager, Mama Xu. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a fun, educational, and well-organized workshop! Diana espoused the benefits of service learning over conventional community service, i.e. conducting community service with the express purpose of learning, polishing skills, and making a proper impact, and taking the time to reflect afterwards on takeaways and lessons learned. We did an example activity by preparing fleece blankets, which I believe were taken by the University of Michigan chapter to be donated to a homeless shelter.

Workshop 2: Getting Involved: Making an Impact & Finding Your Voice by Tom Fernandez

In this workshop, Tom discussed the importance of making your voice heard. He related a great story of the time he sent a very strongly-worded email about the Tanya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan episode and Michelle Kwan missing out to upper management, which earned him a serious meeting where they did not fire him (as he was expecting), but instead offered him a different position due to his passion. Apart from that, Tom had us break out into small groups at regular intervals to discuss topics like, “Who inspires me?” and “How do I keep myself on schedule?”.

Workshop 3: Empowering Women in STEM by Whirlpool

The workshop did not quite meet my expectations, since the content strayed closer to “empowering you” instead of “empowering women” specifically, but it was still good in that there were many good discussions and lessons that happened. In particular, I enjoyed presenter Jessica Buschman’s discussions on mentorship — specifically, how to find a mentor, how to learn from a mentor, and how to be a good mentor.

The UMN Chapter presenting their workshop, STEM Outreach with SASE.

The other workshops were Managing Your Personal Brand by General Electric, The Asian Pacific Islander American Experience by Dr. Lynn Itagaki, Challenges Employees Face When Coming from College to Industry by Cummins, STEM Outreach with SASE by the SASE University of Minnesota Chapter, Striving for a Purpose by Procter & Gamble, A Graduate Studies Panel by OSU Alumni, So Now What? Advice for Life After College by Khanh Vu, and Who am I? Who are You? Who are We? by Stephen Deaderick.

Conference: Lunch

Khanh Vu looking good during his lunch keynote.

Lunch consisted of Mexican food, which was a little much for me after the previous evening’s tacos. Entertainment consisted of a series of fusion/modern/K-pop dances (sorry, I’m no expert) by a local student group.

The keynote speaker was none other than Khanh Vu, the Executive Director of SASE. Khanh, ever a lover of hard statistics, drove home a stark reminder — although Asian representation at technology companies is astounding, the numbers fall off quickly as one moves up the corporate ladder, suggesting either a lack of ambition or lack of opportunities among Asians in the workplace. SASE, of course, is one of the few organizations seeking to fix this problem.

Conference: Networking

Attendees network and connect.

The afternoon closed with a networking session. The corporate sponsors as well as several reps from the Ohio State University’s graduate school departments were present to connect, answer questions, and in some cases, accept resumes.

I spent my time “assisting” Chris with his SASE National Volunteer table (by that, I mean funneling people to Chris and nodding my head encouragingly).

Conference: Closing

At closing, the regional team got the chance to introduce ourselves and speak about the Midwest region’s achievements in the past year. I was also given the privilege to speak about the 2017 SASE National Conference (and the fact that it’s coming to the Midwest for the first time — get hype!).

There was a moment when there were technical difficulties, and Victor took it upon himself to share this joke:

When the farmer counted his cows in the field, he had 196 cows.
When he rounded them up, he had 200.

He received no applause.

Finally, the OSU team closed out the conference with a final round of thank yous and goodbyes.

Hats off to the host chapters, the Ohio State University and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, for co-hosting a successful and wonderful conference. It boasted a record-breaking attendance of over 160 collegiate (from 13 universities) and professional attendees.

Many thanks to corporate sponsors P&G, GE, Ebco, Whirlpool, and Cummins for supporting the 2017 Midwest Regional Conference.

All photos courtesy of the SASE OSU Chapter unless otherwise noted.

The ‘silly’ group photo.


To close out my personal trip to Columbus, Chris and I enjoyed a phenomenal brunch at Northstar and finished it off with Jeni’s ice cream — excellent recommendations once again.

Next up, Conference 10 in Chicago. #ChicagoReady