I feel like it was the most foundational piece for me,” said Vernice Arahan ‘14, of her experience in the Asian American Studies Program. “It provided a conscientiousness – a real desire and drive to go out and serve and learn more.”
Arahan, who hails from Sayreville, N.J., minored in Asian American studies, as well as inequality studies. “I wanted to learn about what it meant to be Asian American and have an identity with a history that I had never studied before,” she said.
She was also heavily involved in the Asian American community during her time at Cornell – in addition to completing the minor, Arahan participated in a joint internship between the Asian American Studies Resource Center and the Asian and Asian American Center.
Her first Introduction to Asian American Studies course (AAS 1100), she said, laid the foundation for her to engage with the community.
“I was in the midst of discovering what being Asian American meant – and taking that class was a foundational piece, a complement to what I was actually doing in the community.”
Arahan began working at the Asian and Asian American Center (A3C) her freshman year, collaborating with student leaders and administrators on community programming. As an intern, she helped organize everything from community breakfasts, banquets and culture shows, to roundtable discussions, workshops and conferences.
Through the joint internship, she also began working at the Asian American Studies Resource Center, conducting outreach and acting as a liaison between the studies program and the larger student community.
“I gained a consciousness about the issues facing the Asian American communities and also underprivileged and underserved communities at large,” she said. “And building on that, a desire to act on what I’d learned to seek out change.”
Arahan took on further leadership roles in the community via Asian Pacific Americans for Action (APAA), which seeks to promote social awareness of Asian American issues on campus, and the Cornell Filipino Association, which allowed her to find a family on campus.
Her leadership roles allowed her to give support to the community, but, in a way, also provided her with an academic and personal support group.
“I’d talk to Vlad (Vladimir Mimic, administrative manager) over at the Asian American Studies program, or Patricia Nguyễn who was the director of the A3C back at the time, about all different issues,” she said. Her Tagalog (Filipino dialect) teacher remains a mentor to her to this day.
Arahan also spent a year abroad, first through the International Honors Program: Cities in the 21st Century, which took her to Brazil, South Africa and Vietnam, and then through Architecture, Art and Planning’s Cornell in Rome program, which she participated in as an urban and regional studies major.
She describes her study abroad experience, which allowed her to learn about world issues firsthand, as the “biggest gift” she got from Cornell.
While in Rome, she was also able to conduct research for her independent study on overseas Filipino workers. Through a project for her urban planning course, Arahan talked to Filipino immigrant workers and collected case studies on their stories; when she returned to Cornell her senior year, she was able to reuse the profiles for her final paper, which she wrote entirely in Filipino.
Arahan now works as as program assistant for the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, coordinating with member credit unions on programming and outreach to help community members receive financial counseling and financial education.
“It definitely ties in with the work I did in the Asian American community and the skills I learned through my urban and regional studies major,” she said. “I apply a lot of what I learned about community engagement by being a student leader in the community.”
To current Cornellians, she said, take advantage of the resources you have here. “Cornell is the perfect time to explore what you want to explore… Even if it’s on a limb, Cornell can make it happen. Take advantage of that ability.
“Anything you want to study, Cornell either has it or can provide a way for you to learn it. Even if it’s just one class … it’s worth the risk to take an elective outside of your major or your friends’ majors!”