When I was 24 years-old, I came alone to the United States to continue my education in a city very different from my native Beijing: Omaha, Nebraska.
After earning my masters degree from the University of Nebraska, I worked for four years at two different renowned architectural firms: SOM in Chicago and Leo A Daly in Omaha.
In 1994, drawn by the beautiful Pacific Northwest, my husband and I moved to Seattle. It was one of the best decisions we ever made. I joined Mithun, an architecture firm nationally renowned for their sustainable designs. I have been with the firm for 17 years.
In 2007, I became one of the owners/shareholders at Mithun, a huge accomplishment in the architectural field. Among the owners/shareholders at our firm, I am the only woman, minority and first-generation immigrant to be a shareholder.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to design a building for the non-profit organization, Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services (ADWAS). ADWAS provides services to deaf and deaf-blind women and their children. I was especially inspired by the founder and Executive Director of ADWAS, Marilyn Smith. I admired the great impact she and her staff have made in the deaf community. Together, we delivered a beautiful building designed specifically for the deaf and deaf-blind, the first of its kind in the country.
ADWAS exposed me to the non-profit world. I wanted to continue to help others. I then discovered Seattle’s chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP). I found the organization’s mission of building professional Asian American leaders compelling.
So, I joined a non-profit board for the first time and I serve currently as NAAAP-Seattle’s Scholarship Chair. I believe in the power of education and how it can change lives. That was certainly true for me. Through running the scholarship program, I organize opportunities for the next generation of leaders to pursue their professional aspirations. I am humbled by achievements of NAAAP-Seattle’s high school and college scholarship winners.
Through volunteering with NAAAP, what I thought was an opportunity to invest my time and energy in others, I soon discovered was also an investment in myself. I am a mother of two young boys, a wife, and a daughter whose parents still live in China. I am also in the leadership ranks of one of Washington’s large architectural firms, during a recession that has been especially difficult for my industry. I’m very busy, but I make time to serve on NAAAP-Seattle’s board because doing so is an investment in building my leadership skills.
Aside from gaining non-profit experience, I have become a more effective leader at work. I am excited about NAAAP’s new national initiative, the Women in NAAAP (WIN!) program, which aims to build Asian American women leaders. NAAAP-Seattle is organizing the West Coast launch of the WIN! Conference on June 4.
Though this conference aims to help Asian women, men and women of all races will benefit from investing a day from their life in learning how to become better, more efficient, productive and powerful leaders. On-site childcare is even available, which is great for moms like me.
The WIN! conference theme is “Invest in yourself!” I’m one of the featured faces on WIN! marketing material. I never thought I would appear on public transit advertising or on posters. But I live the message “Invest in yourself!”every day, and I love sharing it with others.
For more information on the WIN! Conference, please visit: win.naaapseattle.org.