Bridging the Higher Education Gap Among AAPI Students

with Noël Harmon of APIA Scholars

Asian American and Pacific Islander students face unique challenges in navigating the college experience, including academic and socio-emotional aspects.

Noël Harmon, President and Executive Director of APIA Scholars, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share how the organization prepares students to excel in higher education and their career.

Posted on:

Apr 29, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Approximately one in three college students are first generation students of color. They often face barriers just getting to school, being college ready, accessing financial aid, and navigating admissions, all without the guidance of parents who've been through the process. And once on campus, they face the dual challenge of being minorities and shouldering the burden of being first. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Andersen. Despite persistent myths about being a so-called "model minority," Asian American and Pacific Islander students face unique problems in education. Nearly two thirds speak a language other than English at home, and one in five have difficulty speaking English. And while the percentage of college degrees in the overall AAPI community is high, some populations have far below average higher-education rates. And joining me now is Noel Harmon, president and executive director of APIA Scholars, whose organization is working to bridge the educational gap. And Noel, thank you so much for being here.

Harmon: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here today.

Anderson: So, we know, for decades, there has been this sort of persistent myth about the model minority. Can you talk to us a little bit about what that is, and why it sort of stands in the way of the work that organizations like yours are doing?

Harmon: Yes, thanks for asking that question. The model minority myth has been around a very long time. And it just seeks to really underscore this idea that the Asian community is, one, homogeneous, and that the entire community is doing great, and there are no issues, particularly as it relates to education. And it makes it very difficult for organizations like ours, whose mission is really to ensure student success to and through college, to raise awareness that there's a need in our community around educational access and success.

Anderson: So, what are some of the challenges that students that you're working with do face?

Harmon: A lot of our students are first generation, and so, many of them face sort of understanding and knowing what it is to get through college, navigating the many different pathways, the many different challenges at school, which we -- many of us understand. You have to take classes. How do you sign up for those? How do you learn about the resources that are on campus specifically there for you? A lot of these challenges are things that many people who have parents who have gone to school before really understand, and know how to navigate. There's also issues related to whether or not they can pay for school. We know educational costs are going up. And so, there's a myriad of things. And we are really trying to help raise awareness about the challenges in general, but also really make targeted decisions about how we serve our students best, so that they can be successful through college.

Anderson: So, can you talk a little bit more about some of those targeted decisions that you do make, so that you can address those needs when it comes to preparing these students for college, and then, you know, seeing them through the whole experience?

Harmon: Yes. At APIA Scholars, we really look at the way that we're serving our students holistically. So, we know that there's academic issues, and we work with institutions to ensure that out students are getting the academic coaching and resources that they need. But we also think that there's an entire other kind of area where students need to have support. So, that is in leadership development. It's also in having mentors. We know that mentors are super important to a student's success making it through college. And we also really think about ways that we can connect our students to internships and opportunities that ensure that they have some access to industries, jobs, careers that they know that they're interested in, but maybe don't know a whole lot about. We want them to have as many of their questions answered when they're in college, so that they can make great decisions as they leave college, and enter into a career.

Anderson: And who are some of these students, and are there specific eligibility requirements?

Harmon: So, our scholars, we are -- we have a scholarship. And that scholarship is open to any Asian Pacific Islander American student. And we use the U.S. Census to help us define that. But our programs are open to any students. And so, if folks go to our website, which is just APIAscholar.org, and they can sign up for any of our programs, our webinars, Right now, obviously, during COVID, we're doing things in a hybrid model, if not all virtual. But we hope and invite our students across the country to join us in our programing.

Anderson: And I know that you guys have been around for about 20 years. What do you think that you need to really focus on to ensure that you can continue this pattern of success for the students that you serve?

Harmon: Yeah, we're -- we are growing, as an organization, through this pandemic. We have managed to continue to grow, and think about ways that we can strategically work to promote student success. One of the things that we have done, and that we see as key into the future, is really partnering with other organizations, other companies. There are so many resources out there. It's really important that we're not reinventing the wheel, as we continue on, that we're leveraging the good work that's out there, whether it's within other APIA organizations, whether it is in the higher education space, and other nonprofits here, especially in D.C. We want to think about ways that we can be collaborative, and innovative, and really think about today's students are not yesterday's students. And so, how can we best serve them into the future, is really our first and foremost priority.

Anderson: Noel Harmon of APIA Scholars. Thank you so much for being here.

Harmon: Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for joining us. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community, and across the nation, visit ComcastNewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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