SAN FRANCISCO — The “Five Questions With…” blog series–presented by the “We’re the Changing Face of America” campaign, features the stories of students, public officials, business professionals, entertainers, and other notable Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders.
These individuals are sharing their experiences in higher education to help inspire today’s generation of AAPI students to reach for success.
This interview is with Andy C. Ng Gates Millennium Scholar, New York University, Class of 2015. The five questions offer insight into Ng’s life and his belief that every student deserves a chance,
Andy C. Ng has decided to dedicate his life to seeing this dream come true. He is an educational consultant, creative planner, and story teller. Originally from Sarasota, Fla., Andy is a co-founder of Student to Student, and a Junior Program Director for the national nonprofit College For Every Student.
Andy is considered an emerging higher education “star” who understands the challenges (and opportunities) brought on by college as he’s currently a junior at New York University (NYU), majoring in English with minors in Urban Education & Social Entrepreneurship.
Below are Andy’s answers to our “Five Questions With…” blog series about his current experiences in higher education. We hope Andy’s story inspires you and other Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students to reach for success.
• How did you decide to attend NYU? What advice would you give other AAPI students on choosing a college?
NG: NYU was actually not my first choice when I applied to college. I had my eyes set on Brown University, as I fell in love with the Ivy League narrative my peers and mentors believed I was destined to follow. I remember getting accepted to NYU after I lost a close tennis match and not even being excited. When I was rejected from Brown, I felt really vulnerable and wallowed in bed for three days. But then I set a goal–decide on a college by the end of the weekend. I looked at my choices: four schools in Florida, Skidmore College, and then NYU.
My desire to leave Florida was so huge. Being born and raised there, I wanted something bigger, cosmopolitan, bustling with purpose. I wanted a school that would challenge me academically, professionally, and socially. My gut feeling told me, “Pick NYU.” Even with my financial aid package, I only had a third of my attendance covered, but I took the risk anyways. I placed my tuition deposit down without ever visiting NYU or knowing exactly how I would pay. Luckily, two days later, I received the Gates Millennium Scholarship and for the first time in a long time, everything fell into place and it was right.
For AAPI students currently on the journey toward college, I would recommend being ruthless in your research. Know everything you possibly can about colleges: Academics, student activities, culture, professional opportunities, location, study abroad, etc. Ask questions whenever possible; call the school, Facebook message a current student, or grab coffee with an alumnus. While I didn’t do this myself, you should also visit every college that really interests you. You want to imagine yourself not just fitting in at school, but thriving there. You want to feel comfortable taking difficult classes, participating in clubs, going out on the town, and working there. It was a lucky chance that I loved NYU, having visited after placing my tuition deposit. Think about it this way, if I had hated the school, I would have wasted $500 and been stuck without a clear college choice.
• What’s the best lesson you’ve learned so far while in college?
NG: You literally learn a new lesson every day in college, so to pick the best one is quite hard. I think you begin to realize how much of a transformative time college is when you reflect upon your past experiences.
I visit my high school every time I’m back home and I’m constantly reminded of how much I’ve grown since then. For one, college has taught me to relieve myself of unhealthy attachments to outcome. There is no one direct, perfect path toward success; it’s full of twists and turns, and the future is dependent on how we react and adapt to circumstances.
I still plan and strategize my next moves, but I don’t mope around when I don’t get perfect grades or my events don’t reach full capacity anymore. Rather, I humble myself and appreciate what did work, reflect on not exactly “what went wrong,” but what might need improvement. Very simply, it’s a shift in perspective–it’s placing value in more positive areas.
• What inspires you to make change in your community?
NG: I have a vivid memory of speaking at my high school graduation: I looked out into the crowd and many faces were missing. Friends who I grew up with had either been incarcerated, gotten pregnant, or lost hope and dropped out. I immediately thought, “Why me?”
Why was I not just graduating high school, but preparing to attend NYU and move to London on a full-ride scholarship? I grew up in the same community as these people, yet I was given such incredible opportunities to break this cycle of poverty and struggle.
These thoughts continue to revolve in my mind. I can’t help but feel that as one of few who have been so blessed by the hands of others that I have a duty to make a change in my community–the community that raised me to be where I am today.
I think about my parents who took such a risk in coming to this country, and allowed me to live a comfortable life that they might never understand. How can I justify their love and passion if I do not help another person, yet alone take a risk to improve the lives of others?
• How have you been able to balance your volunteer and advocacy work with academics?
NG: I don’t sleep. Well, that was my old approach; since then I’ve learned that it’s important to take care of myself. I have to be at my best, physically and mentally, in order to accomplish and fulfill all my commitments.
Since I was a kid, I’ve valued organization and hold myself accountable through a daily planner and setting personal deadlines. Of course, academics come first so I make sure I complete my readings and assignments on time, study in the library in between classes, or on the subway. I schedule my volunteer work at a reasonable time so that I’m not late to classes or vice versa.
• Why should AAPI students get involved in making a difference in their community while in college? What advice would you give on how to get started?
NG: I think anyone can attend school and get straight A’s. While that’s important and a great goal, in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t really matter. People care about why you do certain things and in our short time here, impact and positive change is weighed more heavily than a dean’s list perfect score. Every person should think about a time when someone made a difference in his or her life. Think about how it improved a situation or gave you the necessary motivation to get yourself to where you are today.
Now, imagine if you could flip the tables and be that person who makes that difference. To see change, positive, genuine change, in your community is a feeling that surpasses getting a 4.0 GPA. Personally, I can’t imagine my time in school without volunteering or interacting with others in a constructive, productive way outside of the classroom. It livens up my schedule and helps me develop certain skills that classes can’t, such as empathetic listening, compassion, or conflict resolution.
If you’re just starting out, an easy way to get involved is reaching out to community groups or organizations. Ask if they need volunteers or a helping hand. You can do this through your school’s career services department or asking other departments on campus. Talk to your friends and explore opportunities together. Making a change can’t be done alone after all!