API Forward’s Student Leadership Conference Returns to In-Person Format

Student Leadership Conference was held in Portland’s Asian-American-Native-American-Pacific-Islander-serving campus.


More event images are available at https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7164709434970062848.

2024 API Forward Student Leadership Conference
Image 1: Conference Program

PORTLAND, Ore. (February 10, 2024) – Drawing a couple dozen of students from local colleges and universities, API Forward’s 4th Annual Student Leadership Conference made a triumphant return in person since the pandemic on February 3, 2024. The goal of the annual event is to bring together undergraduate college students who identify as Asian and/or Pacific Islander for a day of leadership education and training. This year, the event took place fittingly at Portland State University, which was designated last fall as an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI) with nearly 11% of PSU’s undergraduate students identifying as AAPI. API Forward has been one of the few local community partners at the table with PSU ever since it hosted a convening for the API community in 2022 in its effort to “cultivate and strengthen a renewed relationship, and determine how [to] support the future and thriving of the incredibly diverse Pacific Islander and Asian American community.” 

Nestled in PSU’s student cultural resource centers, this year’s conference centered on the theme, “Life as a Leader,” emphasizing that leadership is not merely a particular title or role. To help bring the theme to life, the conference featured two panels of speakers who shared their leadership stories before and after graduation from college. During each panel, speakers were vulnerable as they shared candidly about their struggles, personal identities, successes in navigating hurdles during and after college, and unique journeys to embracing leadership:

Life as a Leader: Before Graduation

  • Chivon Ou, Forward Leadership Program Alumni: Chivon is a recent graduate from the University of Portland’s School of Nursing & Health Innovations who will begin their career at the VA Portland Health Care Systems as a nurse resident soon. In addition to being an alum of the 2020 Forward Leadership Program, Chivon’s leadership is defined by their passion to care for others, especially the QTBIPOC community and people struggling with mental health.
  • Lavina Martinez, Portland State University: With her family hailing from Hawaii, Lavina grew up spending her childhood summers and formative years visiting her grandparents on the island of Oahu. While pursuing her undergraduate degree at Portland State University, Lavina began her career at the university in the Admissions office. She has navigated various departments since 2016 including the PSU Dental Office, the Diversity & Multicultural Student Services, Registration and PSU New Student Programs. Lavina’s current role is the University Welcome Center Coordinator. 
  • Whitney Murphy, Portland State University: Whitney is a versatile higher education professional who is passionate about empowering Pacific Islander and Asian students throughout their college experience. As a woman of color with a background in orientation programs and leadership education, Whitney found a purpose in connecting students back to their culture which led her to become the PIAAA Program Coordinator. She is committed to the empowerment and healing of her students and works to transform the higher education experience by equipping students with cultural knowledge and community. 

Life as a Leader: Post-Graduation

  • Brandon Ha, The White Lotus Foundation: Brandon is a 2nd generation Asian American of Vietnamese and Cambodian descent. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, he achieved his bachelor’s degree in Business Marketing at Portland State University and now works full-time as Lead Project Manager at a Digital Marketing Agency. Outside of his day job, Brandon co-founded the White Lotus Foundation, which strives to support and empower the AAPINH community. Serving as Vice President, Brandon organizes community initiatives like the White Lotus Lion Dance Team, the Portland Mid-Autumn Festival and the Junior Executives program.
  • Tracey Lam, Tracey Lam Consulting: Tracey is an award-winning public relations professional who uses communications as a catalyst for diversity, equity, and inclusion. The former director of programs and communications at Partners in Diversity, Tracey now runs her own Tracey Lam Consulting. In 2014, she co-founded API Forward, and her current community service work includes serving on the board of Sport Oregon, the Diversity & Inclusion committee of the Public Relations Society of American Oregon Chapter, the Multnomah County Budget Advisory Committee, and the Oregon Public Broadcasting Community Advisory Board.
  • Kurt Jun, City of Tigard: With his Hawaiian heritage and over 30 years of experience, Kurt brings a unique blend of cultural insight and professionalism. His journey, shaped by international business studies and extensive travels as a world explorer in humanitarian aid and relief work, circling the globe over 12 times, has deeply influenced his approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In his past roles, Kurt has led strategic management in human capital, focusing on workforce development, retention, and cultural competency training. He is well-versed in civil rights laws, particularly in administering Title VI & VII programs and understanding Environmental Justice impacts. 

Throughout the conference, participants engaged in a series of ice breakers, breakout conversations, and activities that encouraged dialogue and introspection. For example, the conference opened with an engaging “Across the Line” activity led by API Forward secretary and Student Leadership Conference event lead, Alaina Robertson, which helped participants get to know one another and promoted self-awareness. During the activity, participants stepped forward every time the statements read out loud applied to them, such as “I am the only child in my family” or “I consider myself to be a leader.” Students took a brief break around noon and enjoyed a catered lunch from a local small business, Ohana Hawaiian Cafe. Later in the day, API Forward board member and former Forward Leadership Program mentor, Wylie Wan, led an engaging breakout session, asking participants to respond to prompts like, “What is it like being an API college student / working adult right now?” 

API Forward president, Christian Aniciete, helped close this year’s conference with a strong and inspiring message. Acknowledging the various challenges and problems leaders are facing in the world today, such as a polarizing U.S. presidential election season, climate change, continuing attacks on the API community, and tragic wars around the world, Christian asked attendees, “It can all feel overwhelming to be a leader right?” He added, “The need for strong and compassionate API leaders is important today more than ever…We hope that this year’s conference has been a beacon of life in a time of darkness.” The event closed with two $50.00 gift certificate raffle drawings to two lucky students, followed by a final reflection activity about the conference with the students. The conference drew overwhelmingly positive reviews, including the following:

Student Feedback: 

“Love the small group activities, allows for diversity in perspective and experiences since we kept switching partners/groups.”

“I’m glad I got to connect and talk about my struggles being an Asian American as I never got the chance to! 🙂

“I liked the panelists and their various backgrounds because it provided multiple perspectives”

“Words can’t express how amazing this conference was as being a Filipina from Guam and being around other people outside of UP that I could relate to. The panels were truly inspiring and I wish I knew about this sooner.”

“I really liked this experience, the panelists all offered such great advice. I would like to bring more friends!”