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APIDA College Day helps students see higher education as a place they can thrive

High school students participate in Sac State's APIDA College Day in March of 2019. This year's event, which will be held virtually, will focus on amplifying Asian Pacific Islander Desi American voices. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

Andrew Yang wishes APIDA College Day existed when he was in high school.

Yang is the oldest of seven children in a Hmong American family and a first-generation college student. He knows firsthand the obstacles that Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) students face when pursuing higher education: uncertainty about which steps to take, difficulty navigating college life, and a lack of people on campus who look like you and share your experiences.

“I had field trips in high school that went to college campuses, and I enjoyed that, but I always felt like something was missing,” said Yang, who earned his undergraduate degree in fall 2020 and is a student in Sac State’s master’s in Higher Education Leadership program. Something like APIDA College Day “would have really changed my pathway and helped me dive into how to navigate college, and also dive into the cultural aspects of my APIDA background.”

Sac State on March 4 will host hundreds of APIDA students from K-12 and community college and their families for the fourth annual APIDA College Day. The event, virtual this year, aims to reveal college as a place where APIDA students belong and can succeed.

The event takes on added significance this year, coming less than three weeks after the University’s antiracism Convocation meant to launch efforts to implement changes that will make Sac State more inclusive and equitable.

“This is one of the few pan-Asian outreach events in the UC and CSU,” said Chao Vang, of the University’s Student Academic Success and Educational Equity Programs (SASEEP), the event organizer. “Offering the community these kinds of culturally responsive college outreach events fosters trust, it fosters relationships with families, but most importantly, it fosters a sense of confidence to parents that we are trying our best to provide a space where students will belong.”

This year’s program will focus on amplifying APIDA voices, Vang said. Erika Moritsugu, deputy assistant to President Biden and the White House Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander senior liaison, will deliver the keynote address. Several Sac State alumni will lead breakout sessions.

Organizers have increased the number of workshops focused on career readiness and added resources designed specifically for community college students, such as drop-in advising.

The work has gained notice. In December, the American College Personnel Association’s Asian Pacific American Network honored the event with its 2022 Outstanding Program/Initiative for APIDA Student Success Award.

The APIDA community is the fastest-growing ethnic group California, U.S. Census data shows.

Vang said, “It’s incumbent upon us as an anchor university to ensure we’re at the forefront in serving this community,” and events such as APIDA College Day show that the University supports them and is invested in their success.

A photographer taking a picture of four students, standing, indoors, in front of a wall with the Sacramento State logo
APIDA College Day, seen above in 2019, is "one of the few pan-Asian outreach events in the UC and CSU,” according to Sacramento State's Chao Vang. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)


Approximately 21% of Sac State students identify as APIDA, and the University is federally designated as an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution.

Almost half of Sac State APIDA students are low-income, and a third are the first in their family to attend college, Vang said. These scholars often face challenges navigating college life, such as determining which courses to take, or what their degree will allow them to do.

The University’s support for these students is yielding results. The four-year graduation rate for APIDA students neared 25% in 2021, up from 5.5% in 2016, though Vang cautioned that significant gaps remain between subgroups of APIDA students.

Moritsugu’s keynote address is the centerpiece of APIDA College Day. Appointed to her current role as deputy assistant by President Biden in April 2021, she supports the administration on an array of priorities and engages with Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities on issues including advancing safety, justice, inclusion, and opportunity.

She will discuss her role in the White House and how she engages the broader Asian American and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander community to support the administration on important issues.

“As I have spent my entire career working to empower communities and individuals, I am humbled to speak to the next generation of the Asian American and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander community at Sac State and uplift your voices as future AA and NHPI leaders,” Moritsugu said. “A beauty of our community is our extraordinary diversity, and it is incumbent on us to motivate and support one another through school and beyond graduation, and be that mentor to others back in your home community.”

Among other event highlights:

  • Remarks from Stephanie Nguyen, a Sac State alumna, executive director of Asian Resources, Inc., and Elk Grove vice mayor.
  • A policy brief and community update from California Assemblymember Evan Low, vice chair of the California Asian & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus.
  • Stop AAPI Hate: Bystander and Rapid Response Training.
  • College-readiness sessions on applying and paying for college, and selecting a major.

More than 50 K-12 and community college groups are registered to attend APIDA College Day, Vang said. In addition, the virtual format makes it accessible for people outside the Sacramento region and state, broadening its impact.

Yang, who is part of the committee organizing APIDA College Day, said when he was on academic probation for the second time as an undergraduate, support from SASEEP and mentoring from Vang, a fellow Hmong American, helped turn his academic career around.

The event, Yang said, helps students and their families understand that Sac State, and other colleges, will welcome and help them thrive.

“It builds community in a way where it makes Sac State a known spot to support APIDA students and the APIDA community in general.”


Are you interested in supporting programs that benefit APIDA students? See your giving options here.

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About Jonathan Morales

Jonathan Morales joined the Sac State communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a newspaper reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams, and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.

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