An interdisciplinary research initiative supported by an initial $100,000 gift could make Cal Poly Pomona a global hub for information about Asian American transnational communities.
The Asian American Transnational Research Initiative’s (AATRI) overarching mission aims to assess the impact of Asian Americans across the nation and around the world, says Mary Yu Danico, AATRI director and associate dean at the College of Environmental Design.
The initiative is also a personal quest for Danico. As child immigrant from Seoul, South Korea, and a senior Fulbright Scholar in Korea, she understands the importance of global connections and relations.
“When you think about campuses around Southern California, or in the nation for that matter, there are Asian and Asian American studies programs and institutes, but there are few research think tanks or initiatives that really examine the shifting bodies of Asian Americans,” says Danico, who served as president of the Association for Asian American Studies from 2012-14 and has published books on Asian American communities, families and identity. “Cal Poly Pomona could be the premier think tank, the nexus for all Asian American transnational-related issues, whether it is economic, political, identity or community.”
Asian American transnationals can be defined as Asians who live in the United States but travel across the country and internationally to conduct business or reside part time in those communities. Conversely, Asians from around the globe also come to the United States. The actions of these transnationals can reverberate on economic and social scales.
“When we think about the diaspora, it’s really not just ‘homeland.’ Asians are dispersed throughout the world and Asians are making an impact around the world,” Danico says. “I always use the concept of bringing the global to the local. We have so much to learn from our transnational communities that we don’t take advantage of.”
The initial research will focus on millennials and post-millennials and the factors that shape their views, values and decision-making. Danico plans to recruit Cal Poly Pomona students over the summer for a longitudinal study that could last up to six years. Social media will be used as a means to capture their ideas and thoughts.
“It’s really addressing how the diverse body of youth process information and how they determine what’s important to them,” Danico says. “We’re going to ask questions ranging from their views of Cal Poly Pomona, to politics to family, all the different types of hot topics.”
Julia Huang, CEO of InterTrend Communications and a philanthropist, made the $100,000 gift after a year-long dialogue with Danico. The Long Beach-based company specializes in marketing to Asian Americans.
“More and more, we need to understand what multicultural millennials are doing. Millennials are, from a generational standpoint, the most multicultural. And multicultural doesn’t just mean racial, but also their psyche and the way they think,” Huang says. “This is the perfect opportunity for academia and the private sector to come together to conduct a deep dive into knowledge and data analysis.”
Huang says that efforts have begun to attract more companies and organizations to get involved and contribute to the initiative.
Danico hatched the initiative two years ago when she served as a sociology professor and vice chair of the psychology and sociology department in the College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences. She garnered support through speaking engagements and presentations at academic conferences, community engagement, and building relations with scholars and community leaders. The gift is evidence that the legwork has yielded a dividend.
“If Cal Poly Pomona were to become the premier think tank for these kinds of studies, it would definitely raise our scholarly profile,” says Sharon Hilles, dean of CLASS, which will host the initiative. “It would also raise our profile in the community. We are going to have a great deal to contribute because there are such gifted scholars and researchers working on this project. It’s exactly the right thing at the right time.”
Faculty members in disciplines ranging from sociology to graphic design will oversee the research, but students also stand to benefit as participatory researchers and research assistants.
“This is definitely learn by doing. We provide students not only access to these kinds of opportunities, but this is something they can put on their resumes,” Danico says. “They’ll be collecting data, doing research, working with focus groups. These are actual skill sets that students can utilize.”
In late 2017, a public symposium is planned to present findings of the research about millennials and post-millennials. The results will be made available to the public and any organizations seeking data.
“The long-term goal of the initiative is to continue to get community leaders and community partners invested in learning more about the Asian American transnational communities,” Danico says. “Later on, we hope to engage international scholars to come here and have our faculty members go abroad as well. My hope is that we can launch a version of the Fulbright experience for our Cal Poly Pomona faculty and students.”