Three Novembers ago, I kneeled before the Chancellor of Cambridge University for my PhD in history. This November, I walked across a stage at the Bellevue Hilton for another certificate – from the Executive Development Institute (EDI), which helps develop culturally diverse leaders in the corporate world.

In the fall of 2008, I ended my nomadic life as a graduate student and returned to my hometown of Seattle to learn about entrepreneurship firsthand, by working at the family business, the Northwest Vietnamese News newspaper.

Although I researched Asian history for most of my adult life, only when I returned to Seattle did I join any organization that focused on serving Asians. When I first decided to study Vietnamese, academic ambition rather than personal reasons drove my efforts.

Now, being Vietnamese American is very much a part of my personal and professional identity. My newspaper keeps thousands of Vietnamese across the state informed of local news. I cannot imagine not being able to speak to my parents in Vietnamese, though I only spoke English to them up until ten years ago.

Over the past two years, I have learned what it means to serve Asians, not to just study Asian history.

When I first started working at the newspaper, I saw its potential to be a bridge between my ethnic community and mainstream society. This is true for all ethnic media. To fulfill its potential, I needed to find supporters not just from within, but also outside the Vietnamese community. So, I ventured outside my Rainier Valley office and began to build my local networks, focusing first on the Asian American community.

I Googled “Asian American” and “Seattle,” and found the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP)-Seattle. It became my first formal network.

As I assumed the role of the newspaper’s spokesperson, I realized I needed to become the leader people perceived me as.

My parents and academic advisers never mentioned “leadership development” and “networking.” They stressed that if I studied and worked hard, success would follow. When I made a career change at an age most of my friends were on their second or third promotion, I knew that I had to work smarter, not just harder.

I discovered volunteering provides unique opportunities to network. Through volunteering on the boards of the MLK Business Association, NAAAP-Seattle, and Celebrate Asia! Seattle Symphony, I am able to hone my leadership skills and work alongside dedicated individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Through NAAAP, I learned about the Executive Development Institute. I applied for and won the 2010 NAAAP-Prudential Benefit to EDI.

Aside from formal training with EDI, numerous community leaders have generously mentored me, helping me refine my raw energy and passion. Yoshi and Naomi Minegishi have shown me how to organize and negotiate efficiently, effectively and with grace. Christine Chen always asks me hard questions, pushing me to clarify my message. Elaine Kitamura has taught me the art of networking. Dr. Skip Rowland, Lourdes Sampera Tsukada, Assunta Ng, among many others, continue to inspire me with their pioneering spirit and their commitment to diversity.

In the Vietnamese community – my father Kim Pham, the president of the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce Trong Pham, and the Executive Director of the Vietnamese Friendship Association Vu Le always share their invaluable insights.

After seeing a need for ethnic media outlets to become stronger as businesses, I created and launched a capacity-building program for local ethnic media called Sea Beez this past May, with the support of New America Media and the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. Sea Beez includes over twenty different ethnic media organizations, which serve communities as diverse as the Somalis, Chinese, the Yakama, Jews, African Americans, and Hispanics, among others.

Looking back over these two years, by returning home, new worlds have opened up to me.

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