After an extensive nationwide search, Dr. Noël Suzanne Harmon, has been selected as the new president and executive director of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF).
She will begin the job on June 30, 2018, replacing Neil Horikoshi, who served in the role for 10 years.
Harmon’s background in leadership and education includes a stint as senior vice president for strategic partnerships at Say Yes to Education, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve inner-city education. There, she led efforts to forge partnerships and raise start-up capital.
Prior to that, Harmon served as associate director of the Global Cities Initiative at the Brookings Institution, and before that as chief program officer and national director of the Talent Dividend at CEOs for Cities.
Harmon also brings research experience in higher education and policy.
“Noël brings to us an impressive record as a strategic leader in educational policy, philanthropy and community engagement and empowerment,” said search committee chair Harsha Murthy. “In addition, her personal story as a Korean adoptee who grew up in the Midwest is compelling and inspirational. We look forward to working with her as we continue to build partnerships with colleges, universities, foundations, political and community groups and others to advance the lives of Asian and Pacific Islander American students and their families,”
APIASF, based in Washington D.C., has distributed more than $110 million in scholarships to Asian and Pacific Islander students since 2003. APIASF manages three scholarship programs: the APIASF General Scholarship, the APIASF Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) Scholarship and the Gates Millennium Scholars/Asian Pacific Islander Americans funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Harmon, a Korean adoptee of a White family, said she was always encouraged to explore her culture and family origin. When she was a child, she and her adoptive family traveled to Korea and located her foster mother, who had cared for her the first six months of her life.
Harmon said personal identity was never an issue for her growing up and that she was well aware of her background and wanted to be a part of efforts to make sure her cultural community was represented well.
“I think that identity, when you are an adoptee, is at the least confusing,” she said. “You are growing up in a different culture. But I’ve always had my parents certainly but also teachers have really encouraged me to reach out and build a network of mentors who were Asian.”
During Horikoshi’s tenure at the helm, he helped to increase APIASF’s capacity, attaining Guidestar’s Platinum Rating and leading APIASF to become one of the most socially impactful nonprofits in the S&I 100 (Social Impact Exchange).
Harmon said she plans to move forward in the same vein and is thinking about ways to connect the organization’s new work with what already exists. Her main focus is to get others to understand the differences between Asian ethnicities and students who are underrepresented within the community, she said.
“It’s important to me as an incoming president that I am supporting our mission of this organization – to support the APIA community,” said Harmon, “I center that within the broader issue in education around equity and the right for education for all students within the United States.”
Dominique Burns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org