When the nation’s leading organization for Asian-American and Pacific Islander college scholarships convened their annual higher education summit Tuesday in Washington, D.C., they were joined by new staff members, who include the granddaughter of the late civil rights and education champion, Thurgood Marshall.
Cecilia Marshall is now director of general scholarships at the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund. Many scholarship recipients qualify for Pell Grants, come from single-parent homes or immigrated to this country as teens and have struggled with English as a second or third language. Since its 2003 inception, the nonprofit APIASF has distributed scholarships totaling more than $60 million.
Marshall was only 11 years old when her grandfather died, but nonetheless, can recount how, in the latter part of his tenure as a U.S. Supreme Court associate justice, he instilled in her important social justice values.
“He didn’t bring his work home but always felt there was so much more that we as a society had to do to achieve equality,” she says of her grandfather. “He taught me that we can all do better.”
Marshall considers her move to APIASF as a way of getting in touch with her roots. Her grandmother, who still lives in the Washington Beltway area, is a Hawaiian-born Filipina. The younger Marshall also sees her APIASF job as a means “of extending the history of service in my family, even though I don’t have a law degree.”
Most recently, Marshall was a recruiter for her alma mater, Savannah College of Art and Design, an experience that felt particularly rewarding whenever she could help a lower-income student of color secure an admissions letter and sufficient financial aid. “Going to art school isn’t the easiest choice because of the high tuition.”
At the APIASF summit, topics explored in panel discussions included how to support Pacific Islander undergraduates and cultivating them as student leaders. Another was how to encourage AAPI students to have cross-racial interactions while building relationships within their own community. The summit customarily brings together lawmakers, scholars who specialize in AAPI access and equity, scholarship winners and college presidents of schools with high AAPI populations. This year’s summit theme was “Moving Forward: Engaging the Changing Face of America.”
Another new APIASF staff member is Gayle Yamada, director of development, who most recently worked in a similar position for the Los Angeles-based Little Tokyo Service Center, which provides culturally sensitive social services, such as family counseling and crisis hotlines, and sponsors community development projects. She previously was a fundraiser for Orange County chapters of the American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross in southern California.
“I feel fortunate to have worked in a direct service capacity and to work with clients we raise money for,” Yamada says. “And although I wasn’t working with quake and flood victims, I was interviewing them at times and gained better respect for the plight of those we served.”
APIASF president and executive director Neil Horikoshi called Yamada and Marshall “terrific individual leaders with significant experience in creating opportunities for underserved communities. Both will be tremendous assets to APIASF as we continue to work to increase AAPI student success. We’re confident that Gayle and Cecilia will help our ongoing efforts to provide critical support to AAPI students, particularly those who have been underserved and overlooked far too long.”
Under Horikoshi’s leadership since 2008, the APIASF has built a broad, multi-cultural coalition of allies that include the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities.
Data indicates that AAPI students might see a 35 percent jump in college enrollment in the next decade, but college access and completion remain problematic for many ethnic groups. In fact, among some subgroups, 50 percent of people aged 25 or older have never attended college at all.
And like other minority males, data suggests that AAPI males are particularly in need of stepped-up outreach. Horikoshi says that when he joined APIASF, about two-thirds of scholarship applicants were female, a ratio that has since crept up to 70 percent.