Nearly 10 years ago, the first Asian American studies major was preparing to walk across the stage at William & Mary’s annual Commencement Ceremony.
Today, as that student pursues acting in Los Angeles, the program is blossoming into a much larger version, offering a minor and — hopefully soon, the program’s director said — a major.
Late last month, the program gained its first gift — $100,000 from the mother of Williamsburg City Councilman Benming Zhang — to fund a research endowment.
What started with one student with a self-designed major will graduate at least 24 majors by 2021, said Francis Tanglao-Aguas, director of the Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) studies program.
“The fact that we have an endowment means we are serious,” Tanglao-Aguas said.
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The endowment, called the Jinlan Liu Faculty Research Endowment, is a signal of the program’s fast growth — and a way to attract more professors and researchers to boost the program.
“I made sure that it was my priority as a founding program director that finances would not be a hindrance to the creation and advancement of an ethnic and diasporic center such as APIA at William & Mary,” Tanglao-Aguas said. “I did not want budget cuts and funding to be the reason we did not exist.”
Birth of the program
The first-known Asian American students, Art Matsu and Hatsuye Yamasaki, graduated from William & Mary in 1928 and 1927, respectively.
In 2005, Tanglao-Aguas arrived at William & Mary as a theater professor. Then, he began the push to charter an Asian American studies program.
In 2009, Edward Hong became the first William & Mary student to graduate with a self-designed degree in Asian American studies.
From there, APIA students continued self-designing their majors in APIA, including Zhang.
In 2016, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences approved and established the Asian and Pacific Islander American studies program, offering a minor for students to pursue. The minor was established the same day Zhang was elected to City Council.
The program is led by two professors: Tanglao-Aguas and R. Benedito Ferrão. There are nearly 20 faculty and affiliated faculty associated with the program, according to the William & Mary website.
“But two professors cannot sustain a program,” Tanglao Aguas said. “And we are getting larger by the minute… We have faculty that are dedicated and hardworking for our program. The least I can do for them… is I can find resources that can help their research.”
More professors means more students
The endowment could fund air fare, materials, housing and more for faculty research.
“I said, ‘Here’s what we need,’” Tanglao-Aguas said. “We need more faculty that can help us… The way to keep them is to help in their research the most that we can. So this is how the endowment moves us forward.”
Endowments are ways for universities to provide a permanent source of income for teaching, research and public service. The endowments typically grow through investment returns and donations, the American Council on Education said.
Information from William & Mary advancement on how much research money will be available annually — and when that money will be released to the APIA program — was not immediately available.
By attracting more faculty to the program, more students will also come, Tanglao-Aguas said.
To further grow the program, the department is also working to establish an official major. It requires full approval of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which will likely consider the matter at a meeting in May.
Establishing a major will fast-track the process for a student to major in APIA studies, compared to spending hours with Tanglao-Aguas filling out paperwork.
“In this case, imagine the nation’s alma mater not having an Asian American and Pacific Islander studies program: The message it sends is that you don’t exist, whatever you do, whatever your ancestors have contributed, it means nothing,” Tanglao-Aguas said. “The message we send … is that you belong. What you do is wanted. What you will contribute is important, and without you, this nation is not complete.”