Asian Pacific American Student Services Director Jonathan Wang is dedicated to making sure the students he works with get the support they need — and not just because that’s his job description.
As a first-generation Taiwanese American college student at UC San Diego, Wang struggled to find his own calling.
“When I was at UCSD, I wish that I had an APASS, I wish that I had someone who I could talk with … I struggled with a lot in my first year,” Wang said. “I didn’t fit in somewhere, [I didn’t find] that sense of belonging, and that really guided me in how I work for the students here at USC.”
While Wang initially went into college to study management, he realized that his true passions lie with supporting students through college. As the first in his family to go to college, Wang is able to draw upon his own experiences in order to relate to the first-generation students that he works with at USC.
Wang became involved with a number of programs at UCSD where he supported students, including being a resident advisor and participating in an internship where he worked with a local charter school that served low-income students. While he initially started the internship as part of his education requirements, Wang fell in love with the program — and continued to work there for all four years of college.
“A lot of [the students at the charter school] were going to be the first in their family to go to college, which is kind of how I was the first in my family to go to college, so really, it was something I found myself in as I was helping these students,” Wang said.
After graduating from UCSD, Wang returned to his hometown to start a tutoring company, JKs Tutoring, for high school students. The company didn’t only focus on helping kids receive good grades in high school, but also ensured that they would be prepared for college.
“It was my way of trying to figure out how I could merge my major, in economics and operations management, with my passion for education,” he said. “A lot of it was college prep. We were mostly helping students with one class, but we were also looking at how that one class fit in the overall picture of getting these students through high school and into college.”
But Wang soon found that he was drawn more to working in student services at the college level. For that, he needed a graduate degree. After much deliberation, Wang chose to pursue a master’s degree in administration and student affairs at USC Rossier School of Education.
“It came down to University of Michigan and USC,” Wang said. “Both are top schools, but I’ve only ever lived in California, so I realized that I wanted my network to be in California.”
It was while pursuing his degree that Wang first became involved with USC APASS. He started a graduate assistantship at APASS, working with the the assistant director and director of the program at the time.
Just as Wang was graduating from his master’s program, both the assistant director and director of APASS found new jobs, which allowed Wang to apply for, and later become, the assistant director of the program. After a few years as the assistant director, the director position opened up again, which led Wang to where he is today.
He says that helping students from similar and different backgrounds truly demonstrates the importance of cultural centers like APASS at a school like USC.
“There are going to be students that experience college in different ways, they might be the first in their family to go to college, or they might be struggling through something, or they just need someone to talk to, and I hope that as … director now, that I’m allowing for the building of that community for them,” he said.
As APASS director, Wang has made many programs and opportunities possible for Asian American USC students. One of these is the CIRCLE program, which stands for “Critical Issues in Race, Class and Leadership Education.” It is a weekly leadership program that explores the experiences of Asians in America. The program has been at USC since 1998. Wang says that every year he learns more about himself and his students, and he sees the program as an experience that connects the community in a meaningful way.
Assistant APASS Director Queena Hoang, who has been working with Wang for the past year, said that Wang is known for mentoring his students.
“Jonathan does a really great job in helping students learn more about their identities and get them to go more in depth in their identity and work as an Asian American student,” Hoang said.
Another program, the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Leaders special interest floor, is one that Wang and APASS are starting this year.
“We’re partnering with the Office of Residential Education and faculty members to have a floor dedicated for Asian American students,” Wang said. “We want to get students involved in really making the most out of their first year.”
“Jonathan has … [made] this a unique experience for first-year students in having a smoother transition into college and into USC, and creating a community where students will feel welcomed,” Hoang said.
Although Wang has worked on many programs for APASS, Hoang says Wang’s selflessness with his students is evident in the bonds he has with them.
“He is really great at building relationships with students, and I think students really trust him as somebody who can offer great advice on a personal level … the students really appreciate and value the work that he does for them, and he’s very selfless in that work,” said Hoang. “The students can totally see that he does work for them, and not for himself.”
But the work he does for APASS isn’t all Wang is doing at the moment — he’s also pursuing a Doctor of Education from Rossier.
“I love doing research, I really love the opportunity to learn about special populations in higher education and USC has been a great place for me,” Wang said.“I just found that the doctoral program was everything that I needed and everything I was looking for.”
Ultimately, Wang hopes that his work in student services and APASS specifically serve to push USC forward and uphold the values of the Trojan Family.
“At this point in our society at USC, [we’re lucky] to have all of these resources and support available for our students,” Wang said. “In the interactions that I have with students and faculty … and especially when it comes to campus issues and campus climate … we’ve been struggling through it, but I do see that there is more being done.”