June 17, 2015 (DALLAS) – Back by popular demand, non-profit Against The Grain Productions will host their 4th Annual Groundbreakers Speak: A Conversation with Movers and Shakers – a diverse panel of remarkable Asian American industry leaders brought together to share their inspiring personal stories and paths to success. For the first time ever, this year’s event, which promotes leadership and mentorship, will be co-hosted with the National Association of Asian American professionals of DFW (NAAAP-DFW) at the NAAAP National Convention to be held in Dallas (another first) under the theme “Resilience: Power of the Asian Leader.”
DALLAS, TX – Seven game-changing female Asian American leaders gathered to share personal stories about their paths to success at Against The Grain Productions’ 3rd Annual Groundbreakers Speak event on Saturday March 2, 2014, hosted at The Crow Collection of Asian Art. Despite the blustery weather conditions, guests packed into the museum’s main gallery to enjoy hors d’oeuvres, wine, coffee and art before settling in to listen to each speaker’s TED-inspired personal presentation around this year’s theme: “Game Changers: Playing to Win.” After sharing their diverse perspectives, speakers joined together as a panel to answer questions and cover hard-hitting issues about identity, cultural barriers, motivation and solutions to nurture leadership in the community. Imparting their insight, there were moments both humorous and poignant. The event concluded with a unique half hour where guests got to interact with speakers one-on-one.
The goal of the afternoon was to give people of all ages a chance to hear and meet influential leaders. It was also about providing mentorship and inspiration, empowering individuals to realize their potential. President/Founder and event moderator Tammy Nguyen Lee said, “Groundbreakers Speak was created to fulfill a need and is unlike most any other event that ATG does. It’s meant to be more intimate and engage with people on a personal level, to create meaningful conversation, provoke deep thought and spark serious leadership. We’re trying to give people a glimpse into who they can be and what we are capable of becoming as a community.”
It was a rewarding and memorable day for our speakers as well. Here’s what they are saying, as they continue to motivate and inspire others to go “Against The Grain”:
Manager of eSports at Blizzard, Kim Phan: “DO what makes you passionate instead of thinking about what makes you passionate. The rest will follow. And remember the words of George Eliot, ‘It is never too late to be what we might have been.’”
Manager of Entertainment Diversity Initiatives for NBC, Grace Borrero Moss: “I am so honored to be included in such an incredible group of strong and successful women. Listening to everyone’s stories and engaging with other young Asian Americans who are, themselves, making waves in their respective fields is really empowering. I now feel even more motivated and energized to make an even stronger impact in my field. Events like these and organizations like ATG are at the forefront of making breakthroughs within the Asian American community.”
Senior Reporter at KERA, Doualy Xaykaothao: “We must remember to continue building bridges across diverse communities, whether via social media or right in your own neighborhoods. A morsel of new information can have great impact in our lives, in our universe. And don’t forget, service to the public is possibly one of the greatest gifts you can give.”
Managing Partner of Ernst & Young, Thear Sy Suzuki: “I left the event inspired and energized! The connections made were priceless. Thank you panelists, guests, ATG and The Crow Collection of Asian Art for your authenticity and willingness to share your stories.”
Award-winning Children’s Book Author/Illustrator, LeUyen Pham: “If this amazing panel of women were anything to judge by, I think I came away with one conclusion that I feel certain of: To succeed as each of these women have, it takes not just brains and passion, but immense courage. I was honored to be among them, and hope that my story of how I achieved my own dreams will affect someone else, no matter to what small degree. All change starts with something small.”
Executive Director of The Boone Family Foundation, Cynthia Yung: “It was great to hear from strong Asian women who are changing the stereotypes of model minorities. Being quiet and obedient may make you invisible but not immune to unfair treatment.”
Lawyer, Advocate, Executive Director and General Counsel of The Asian Resource Group, Inc., Lesley Varghese: “No shortage of inspiration at Against the Grain Productions and the Crow Collection of Asian Art. Grateful to Tammy Nguyen for a unique opportunity to meet a few of the most dynamic Asian American women in the country, surrounded by mind-blowing art like “China Porsche!”
Video clips of each speaker will be available on ATG’s YouTube Page.
Read the Asia World Media Coverage.
ATG Against The Grain Productions, a Dallas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, promotes Asian American cultural awareness through compelling media projects and raises funds for international orphanages. In addition to hosting outreach events, it also awards an annual scholarship to exemplary Asian American student artists and leaders. ATG produced the feature documentary, Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam, which has screened at over a dozen film festivals nationwide and received the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film at the Vietnamese International Film Festival and the Documentary Audience Choice Award from the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. For more information, visit www.AgainstTheGrainProductions.com or www.TheBabylift.com.
Words of Praise
“A surprise Dallas snowfall on the afternoon of Sunday, March 2nd, set the tone for an equally unpredictable and fascinating afternoon at the Crow Collection of Asian Art. I found myself hanging on every word from each expert speaker, and their surprising stories echoed through my mind long after I returned home. The obstacles they had overcome! The talents they possessed! The goals they had marked, achieved, and surpassed! Not only were the panelists’ experiences in life and careers remarkable from a groundbreaking Asian American perspective, but they sparked a drive within me to maximize my potential as a modern working woman. Kudos to ATG Productions, and I look forward to the next Groundbreakers event.” – Lisa Petty, Editor, DFW Style Daily
“My first experience at Groundbreakers Speak last year helped to forge a new relationship between ATG, NAAAP and Dallas Women’s Foundation. This year the experience confirmed exactly why it is imperative for all women to embrace their individual stories for the collective good of women everywhere. The dynamic women who shared their stories not only inspired me to embrace my personal journey but they reminded me why female ‘gamechangers’ are valuable and relevant. Women and girls should strive to take on careers and opportunities that challenge the status quo. ATG Against the Grain Productions’ Groundbreakers Speak definitely embodies that message.” – Akilah Wallace, Dallas Women’s Foundation
“ATG’s Groundbreakers Speak this year was so wonderful with strong inspiring women paving the way to success through leadership. We are so grateful to be a part of this annual event!” – Dii Kim, Founder/Owner, Pho is for Lovers
“Thanks to Tammy and the entire ATG team! It was a tremendous honor and thrill to get to know each of you.” – Sylvia Komatsu, EVP | Chief Content Officer, KERA/KXT
“So BLESSED to be in this audience and experience this panel! Each offered such insights and knowledge of what it takes to be a FEMALE game changer.” – LeeAnne Locken, TV Host/Actress/Author
“So honored that I had the opportunity of attending an Against the Grain event hosted by the remarkable Tammy Nguyen. The wealth of talent in the room was unmeasurable. Every single guest can contest to walking away from the flawless event being inspired, motivated, and driven to DREAM BIG.” – Yasmeen Tadia, CEO & Founder, Fluffpop
“So inspired to be surrounded by brilliant, powerful Asian American women leaders who are passionate about their careers and fostering the dreams of women around them.” – Karen Liu Pang, Director of Business Administration and Process Effectiveness, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas
“Congratulat[ions on] a successful event. The panelists were impressive, informative and a lot of fun. I am glad that we could be a partner and host.” – Jill VanGordon, Director of Education, Crow Collection of Asian Art
DALLAS, TX – In honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, seven trailblazing Asian Americans told their personal stories about their paths to success at Against The Grain Productions’ 2nd Annual Groundbreakers Speak event on Saturday May 11, 2013. Surrounded by the beautiful pieces at The Crow Collection of Asian Art in Downtown Dallas, more than 100 guests packed into the museum’s main gallery to enjoy champagne, hors d’oeuvres and art before settling in to listen to each speaker’s TED-inspired personal presentation. After sharing their diverse perspectives, speakers joined together as a panel to answer questions and cover hard-hitting issues about identity, cultural barriers, motivation and solutions to nurture leadership in the community. Imparting their insight, there were moments both humorous and poignant. The event concluded with a unique half hour where guests got to interact with speakers one-on-one.
The goal of the afternoon was to give people of all ages a chance to hear and meet influential leaders. It was also about empowering individuals to realize their potential. President/Founder and event moderator Tammy Nguyen Lee said, “Groundbreakers Speak was created to fulfill a need and is unlike most any other event that ATG does. It’s meant to be more intimate and engage with people on a personal level, to create meaningful conversation, provoke deep thought and spark serious leadership. We’re trying to give people a glimpse into who they can be and what we are capable of becoming as a community.”
It was a rewarding and memorable day for our speakers as well. Here’s what they are saying, as they continue to motivate and inspire others to go Against The Grain:
Former Dallas Cowboy and the first Vietnamese player in the NFL, Dat Nguyen: “There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, But you have to put time and effort in order to gain an edge. It’s all about attitude.”
Director of Education at The Crow Collection of Asian Art, Dr. Karin Oen: “Maybe part of our goals in our generation is to contribute and build to create visibility across the new border whether you choose to be in the arts or entertainment.”
Vice President of Programming, Brand Integration at HGTV and DIY Network, Kent Takano: “Be prepared for the opportunity… find something you really want to do, because if you didn’t enjoy doing whatever, you’re not going to be good at it.”
Founder and CEO of Fur Face Boy, Hai Mai: “I hope my words, thoughts and passions could make the slightest difference in someone’s life. I know that the words that everyone spoke of their life definitely sparked emotions for me.”
Emmy-nominated journalist, host and KHOU news anchor, Lily Jang: “What a wonderful experience to share, learn and inspire all at the same time. We all have a story.. and ATG Productions allowed me to tell mine. I’m grateful for this experience to be among some amazing trailblazers. Can’t wait to come back!”
Lawyer, advocate and politician, Richard Jung: “Instead of being afraid to lose face, be courageous enough to make a face and make face in the direction that you want.. because you have qualities and characteristics that are going to help you succeed.”
Founder of Baal Dan Charities, Tanya Pinto: “It was an honor to be part of this event as a panelist. The sheer talent and tenacity of the speakers featured is a testament to the achievements of the Asian American citizens of Texas!”
Video clips of each speaker will be available on ATG’s YouTube Page.
ATG Against The Grain Productions, a Dallas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, promotes Asian American cultural awareness through compelling media projects and raises funds for international orphanages. In addition to hosting outreach events, it also awards an annual scholarship to exemplary Asian American student artists and leaders. ATG produced the feature documentary, Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam, which has screened at over a dozen film festivals nationwide and received the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film at the Vietnamese International Film Festival and the Documentary Audience Choice Award from the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. For more information, visit www.
Words of Praise
“In a few words; it was one of the best speaking engagements I’ve attended; ‘Great life stories on self motivation and powerful accomplishments.’ – David Rico of BB&T Bank
“Uber Dallas wants to thank ATG for allowing us to be apart of this wonderful event. The Groundbreakers Speak event was truly an enlightening experience. From the beautiful setting itself to the panel discussion, all were able to get a deeper understanding of the issues past and present facing the Asian American community and the path to future growth. We look forward to future partnerships with Tammy and the ATG team!” – Leandre of Uber Dallas
Published: 15 May 2013 11:12 PM
Updated: 16 May 2013 11:25 AM
Dat Nguyen was often told he was too small to play football. Yet he was the first Vietnamese-American in the NFL. He was drafted by the Cowboys and said he couldn’t believe he was playing with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.
“There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big,” said the ESPN sportscaster. “But you have to put time and effort in order to gain an edge. It’s all about attitude.”
Nguyen was one of seven panelists who shared their journeys at Groundbreakers Speak: A Conversation With Asian American Movers and Shakers. Saturday’s event was sponsored by Against The Grain Productions and held at the Crow Collection in Dallas. Tammy Nguyen Lee, founder of ATG, moderated the discussion.
Kent Takano, a vice president for HGTV and DIY Network, said he never expected to watch television for a living. In an acting class, he met someone in television who helped him land an internship. Takano’s been in television ever since.
Karin Oen, director of education at the Crow Collection, is passionate about building community through art institutions. UT Arlington graduate Ha Mai carved a path from design studio work to Fur Face Boy, his independent apparel line. Lily Jang said she loves what she does as a television journalist in Houston. Lawyer, advocate and politician Richard Jung joked that he wanted to be Nguyen, but admitted he found his calling in immigration law and helping others.
Tanya Pinto left a large advertising agency to start Baal Dan Charities, a nonprofit helping children around the world. She also runs her own firm, Shakti Consulting.
Nguyen Lee said each of the panelists “put fear aside to follow their passion.” This is her second Groundbreakers event, which she holds in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Visit againstthegrainproductions.com.
Asian Celebrity Groundbreakers Speak 2013, Featuring Dat Nguyen, Kent Takano, Lily Jang And More
By Asia World Media
In honor of Asian American Heritage Month, Tammy Nguyen Lee of Against The Grain Productions (ATG) and Amy Lewis Hofland of the Crow Collection of Asian Art Museum partnered up to host the 2nd Annual Groundbreakers Speak: A Conversation with Movers and Shakers in Dallas, TX. The family-friendly event brought together an amazing and diverse panel of Asian American professionals and celebrities, including Dat Nguyen (ESPN Radio Host & Former NFL/Dallas Cowboy Linebacker), Kent Takano (Executive Producer of Branded Entertainment for HGTV), Richard Jung (Attorney/Advocate/Politician), Tanya Pinto (Founder of Baal Dan Charity), Karin Oen (Director of Education at the Crow Collection of Asian Art), Ha Mai (Founder/CEO of Fur Face Boy) and Lily Jang (TV Host and News Anchor at KHOU). Each speaker has a unique experience to share his/her inspiring, personal and success story.
Over 100 guests crowded into the Crow’s Bronze Circle Room surrounded by exquisite works of art from China, Japan, and India. While enjoying champagne and dessert, guests have the special opportunity to engage with Asian American movers and shakers on important issues affecting the Asian American community.
“Being a groundbreaker has to do with pushing asides fears and embracing new challenges, ” said Richard Jung, managing partner of Jung Ko, PLLC. A passionate advocate for the Asian American community, Richard Jung believed, “As Asian Americans, we must overcome the cultural inhibitions about standing out and standing our ground. Our elders, our children, our communities need leaders who willing to stand out and stand up for their interests.”
Elsewhere Dat Nguyen’s speech at NFL and Dallas Cowboy’s Day was pretty legendary, giving the other amazing speech a run for its money. An inspiration to many Asian NFL enthusiast, Dat Nguyen is the first Vietnamese American to play in the NFL as a Dallas Cowboy linebacker during the late 1990s. After a successful career in the NFL, Dat Nguyen is currently with Sports talk Radio at ESPN San Antonio. Dat Nguyen articulate, “I would like [for you] to walk away from the event knowing don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, but you have to put time and effort in order to gain an edge. It’s all about attitude!”
“Everyone can be a groundbreaker – they simply have to figure out what their unique talent is and then follow that passion to create something, … Then watch the magic unfold, ” said Tanya Pinto, Founder of Baal Dan Charity.
DALLAS, TX – Dallas-based nonprofit ATG Against The Grain Productions hosted their inaugural Groundbreakers Speak: A Conversation with Asian American Movers & Shakers on Saturday, July 28th. Event guests received a docent guided tour of elegant The Crow Collection of Asian Art before packing the main gallery to enjoy champagne, coffee, dessert and experience a lively panel discussion comprised of a diverse cross section of Asian American industry leaders. Each panelist represented a different occupational field, from medicine to fashion, business to film, sports to politics and was carefully selected to share their unique perspective and journey that led to their ultimate success. After awarding the 2012 Sunna Lee Leadership scholarship to recipient Rebekah Kim, the stimulating discussion topics ranged from witty and profound advice and anecdotes, insightful personal confessions, cultural observations on being raised by Asian immigrant parents, thought-provoking questions for self-actualization and identity, a strong call to action for more mentorship in the community and a round-robin of humorous answers to Inside the Actors Studio questions.
Leadership scholarship founder Sunna Lee said, “Many countries, many age groups and many professions were represented [at Groundbreakers], yet the challenges we face are so similar. It was refreshing and encouraging to hear a point of view of empowerment rather than that of a victim.” The Groundbreakers Speak panel included NASCAR/Formula One Racer Nur Ali, U.S. Olympian Rebekah Kim, judge and activist Ramey Ko, plastic surgeon/entrepreneur Dr. Sam Lam, marketing executive Sunna Lee, fashion designer Khanh Nguyen, filmmaker Patrick Wang and film/tv producer and philanthropist Tammy Nguyen Lee moderating the discussion. Nguyen Lee, who is ATG’s President and Founder, conceived of the event to continue the organization’s unique method of community outreach in an engaging and entertaining format, while also dealing with an issue she views as lacking in the Asian American community. Said Nguyen Lee, “Up to this point, ATG has made great strides in promoting emerging Asian American artists and fundraising for our causes. However, this year, we wanted to add more education to our repertoire and bring leadership to our focus so that we can inspire others to step up. It’s a subject that we need to address, understand, nurture and educate ourselves on so that we can evolve into a stronger community and truly give back to the best of our potential.”
Dr. Sam Lam, a triple-board certified plastic surgeon and author of numerous books, acknowledged that one of the biggest ways to impact the lacking leadership in the Asian American community was through mentorship. Dr. Lam is well acquainted with the significance of ATG events, putting his money where his mouth is by supporting the organization as a year-round sponsor for the past several years. “Tammy Nguyen Lee once again has proven how talented she is at putting together and leading a first-rate panel to inspire present and future generations of Asian American leaders.” Nur Ali continued, “We as Groundbreakers need to be more available as mentors to youth and adults alike in our community and work to give them the strength to follow their hearts. It can be a bit worrisome, but the payoff can also be huge.”
With years already under his young career belt, activist and attorney Ramey Ko shared one of the day’s most poignant thoughts that “if you ever find yourself saying ‘someone ought to do that,’ perhaps that someone ought to be you.” Ko acknowledged ATG as an example that proves “Asian Americans are not only breaking new ground, but we’re doing it in style” and adding that “the tremendous diversity of the panel demonstrates that there are no doors that are closed to Asian Americans, if we have the passion, the commitment and the faith to make our dreams happen.”
With the success of the first Groundbreakers Speak, ATG plans to take Ko’s thoughts to heart and continue hosting this panel as one of its staple community outreach events. Said Nguyen Lee, “This was a great beginning, but there is so much more we can do to help engage and nurture future Asian American leaders. We’ll bring more voices to the table. This was just the tip of the ice berg.”
ATG Against The Grain Productions, a Dallas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, promotes Asian American cultural awareness through compelling media projects and raises funds for international orphanages. In addition to giving out an annual scholarship to exemplary Asian American students pursuing a degree in the arts, they also produced the feature documentary, Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam, which has screened at over a dozen film festivals nationwide and received the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film at the Vietnamese International Film Festival and the Documentary Audience Choice Award from the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. For more information, visit www.AgainstTheGrainProductions.com or www.TheBabylift.com.
DALLAS, TX – For the first time, Dallas-based non-profit ATG Against The Grain Productions brings together influential and successful Asian American leaders to host an engaging and educational event called Groundbreakers Speak: A Conversation with Asian American Movers & Shakers. The panel is comprised of dynamic and influential industry leaders who will speak on their inspiring path to success. The family-friendly event will take place from 2-4 pm at the Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas, TX on Saturday, July 28th. In addition to the panel, event guests will get an opportunity to enjoy Asian art, champagne, coffee and dessert.
The 2012 Groundbreakers Speak panel includes leaders from areas of business, law, medicine, sports, fashion, the arts and philanthropy. They include NASCAR/Formula One Racer Nur Ali, U.S. Olympian Rebekah Kim, judge and activist Ramey Ko, plastic surgeon/entrepreneur Dr. Sam Lam, marketing executive Sunna Lee, fashion designer Khanh Nguyen and filmmaker Patrick Wang. The panel will be moderated by ATG President/Founder Tammy Nguyen Lee.
Admission to Groundbreakers Speak: A Conversation with Asian American Movers & Shakers ranges from $10-15 and can be purchased online at www.againstthegrainproductions.com/events.
The “Groundbreakers Speak” Panelists:
“I am honored to be part of the first Groundbreakers event, highlighting Asian-American Movers and Shakers in the community. I look forward to the panel’s conversation and their insight.”
Nur Ali grew up in Germany surrounded by Formula One Racing. Ali developed his passion for racing at a very young age. Through his fourteen year career, Ali has amassed two Championships in the Southwest Formula Mazda Regional Series and a second place finish in the Legends Series. He has also raced in twelve countries for the A1 Grand Prix Series – The World Cup of Motorsport, with a top ten finish in Durban, South Africa. By 2011, he received his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series license and later on in 2012, Ali was sanctioned and licensed by the NASCAR Nationwide Series and hopes to make his debut in the current season.
“I feel extremely honored and excited to be attending ATG’s very first “Groundbreakers Speak” event. I’ve been impressed by reading about all of the things ATG has been doing for the Asian American community, and I am hoping that I can be a positive addition in supporting their vision and purpose.”
Rebekah “Becky” Kim is currently attending the University of Southern California pursuing a M.A. in Teaching. In 2004, she she led Ohio State’s Synchronized Swimming Team to win a National Collegiate Championship, winning gold in all three events (duet, trio, team). The eight-time national team member helped the U.S. win gold at the 2006 World Trophy Cup in Moscow, Russia, which marked the first victory over the Russians who have been reigning champions for the past ten years. In the following year, Rebekah participated in the 2007 Pan Americans Games, where the U.S. finished gold, securing their spot in the 2008 Olympic games. She is the first Korean American to have ever made the U.S. Olympic Synchronized Swimming team. Kim made her Olympic debut in Beijing, 2008 where the U.S. placed fifth. Following the Olympic games, she returned back to OSU to complete her schooling where she led the team, as team captain, to win another National Championship in 2009. That same year she was named Athlete of the Year.
Currently, Kim gives back to the sport by raising and coaching the next generation of synchronized swimmers. She is involved in the governing body of USA Synchro. She was selected as the United States Olympic Committee Athlete Advisory Council Representative, where she was one of five officials who selected members of team USA for the 2012 London Olympic Games. To help her community, she partners with the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games (SCCOG), is a speaker for Ready, Set, Gold! (RSG!) and serves on the leadership team at Sarang Community Church in Anaheim . Kim is the winner of the 2012 Sunna Lee Leadership Scholarship.
“I am honored and humbled to be included in the very first leadership event organized by Against the Grain. As the U.S. Census and numerous recent polls, studies, and news reports have indicated, Asian Americans are now the fastest growing racial group in America. We have also achieved unprecedented levels of success, whether it’s the groundbreaking appointment of three AAPIs to President Obama’s cabinet, the more than doubling of the number of AAPI federal judges since 2009, or the increasing visibility of Asian Americans in entertainment and arts from Hollywood to YouTube. With new opportunities also come new responsibilities, so it is more critical than ever that Asian Americans rise to the challenge of becoming the leaders, the innovators, and the agents of change in a diverse and changing America.”
Ramey Ko is a partner with Jung Wakefield PLLC, an immigration and business law firm, and an Associate Municipal Judge – the first Asian American judge in Austin. Ko is also an adjunct lecturer in Asian American Studies at the University of Texas and serves on the Austin Public Safety Commission and the Advisory Board of the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce. In September 2010, President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, which advises federal agencies on how to better serve the AAPI community.
“I am honored to be part of this distinguished group of Asian community leaders and hope to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs, leaders, movers, and shakers.”
Dr. Sam Lam graduated from Princeton. He is an entrepreneur, triple board-certified facial plastic surgeon and author of 6 major medical textbooks and over 150 scientific articles and book chapters. Dr. Lam lectures nationally and internationally throughout the year and has given over 150 lectures to date. He is national course director for a Hair Transplant Workshop in St. Louis each year as well. He is the current owner and operator of the 27,000 square-foot Willow Bend Wellness Center in Plano that houses his other two businesses, The Spa at Willow Bend and the Jose Eber Salon. Dr. Lam’s newest venture is a skincare line named Ova that features plant-derived stem cells and has taken him two years to develop.
“I am thrilled and honored to be part of ATG’s first leadership forum as this speaks to which I am most passionate. The need for promoting, developing leadership among the Asian community is what drove me to create the Sunna Lee Leadership scholarship. We need to understand what this means today and in the future for all generations to come. Leveraging the talent, intelligence and vision of Asians to drive strategic thinking, innovations, creativity that change the way we live is the ultimate step in assimilation to American society where the focus is not in rebuilding a life here but influencing other lives. Leadership comes in various ways. I am very excited to hear others’ perspective and most importantly, to create a meaningful dialogue that will build a foundation for years to come.”
Sunna Lee is a first generation Korean American with 25 years as an executive in product development, which includes trends, design, marketing and sourcing for brands and retailers small to large, private and publicly traded companies with $7 million to $2.5 billion in revenues. She has served as Vice President of Marketing for Priss Prints and NoJo, Vice President of New Business Development for Crown Crafts Infant Products, Vice President of Merchandising for Riegel, Director of Fashion for Dorel Juvenile Group and currently the Director of Product Development for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. At Cracker Barrel, she leads the women’s group, Woman’s Connect, as a member of the steering committee to develop future women leaders of the organization.
“I am honored to be a part of Groundbreakers Speak for its first year. It is a great opportunity to voice what I have learned throughout my years in the industry and to learn what others have experienced as well. Everyday, we are thankful to be asked to be a part of such great events and to help make aware to the community all the organizations out there that make a difference.”
Khanh Nguyen has been surrounded by fashion and art throughout her life. Nha Khanh’s designs focus on modern glamour, inspired by art, architecture and most importantly, nature. “Nha,” in Vietnamese, is a feminine word implying ‘light’, whereas “Khanh” is a masculine word, meaning celebration. The fusion of the words creates a balance of unison between what is feminine and what is masculine. Nguyen attended the University of North Texas and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts in Fashion Design. During her education, Khanh’s most notable recognition was the “Top Achievement Award at the Dallas Career Day Design Competition,” allowing her the opportunity to embark on an internship in Paris, France. Upon her return to Dallas, Nguyen started her own fashion firm, Nha Khanh. The company was officially established in January 2010. Design and production of the line are all based in Dallas, Texas, while the sales, marketing and public relations of the collection are based in New York City.
“I’m very much looking forward to the conversation that will come out of such a diverse panel. Our individual paths have been unusual and unpredictable, so who can guess where this dialogue will go.”
Patrick Wang is a graduate from MIT with a degree in Economics and a concentration in Music and Theatre Arts. Wang has become a well-known theatre and film director. He recently released his first feature film, In the Family, to critical praise. As an economist, he has studied energy policy, game theory, and income inequality at the Federal Reserve Bank, the Harvard School for Public Health and other organizations. As a theatre director, he has specialized in classical verse drama (world premiere of Diane Arnson Svarlien’s translation of Medea) and new works (Surviving the Nian, Jonathan Larson Award).
“This is the first time ATG has hosted a speakers panel for the sole purpose of community outreach and education. Bringing together Asian American leaders of this caliber and diversity from all over the country to come to Dallas to share their experiences, perspective and insights is a rare opportunity. They are all groundbreakers in their own right and have amazing stories to share. We can learn so much from them and walk away inspired by what we can achieve as a community. ATG is also so excited to partner with the wonderful team at the Crow Collection of Art to give a beautiful backdrop to our event.”
Tammy Nguyen Lee is a passionate producer, filmmaker and actor who founded ATG with her family as a result of her own experience as an American actor and filmmaker, fueled by the determination to give other Asian Americans a creative outlet, while raising awareness for Asian American issues and aid for worthy causes. Nguyen Lee graduated with a B.A. in Cinema from Southern Methodist University and earned a M.F.A. from the elite UCLA Producer’s Program. She produced/directed her first feature documentary, Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam, an independent passion project that took nearly 5 years to produce and won the Audience Choice Award at the 2009 Vietnamese International Film Festival and Philadelphia Asian Film Festival. She has worked extensively in film/television production and has overseen the development and marketing of a heavy slate of non-fiction television series and documentary programs for major cable networks. In 2010, she was honored with SMU’s prestigious Distinguished Alumni Emerging Leader Award. Now, as a new mom, Nguyen Lee’s focus is on her family, growing ATG and continuing to work as an actor, film/television producer and development consultant.
ATG Against The Grain Productions, a Dallas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to producing films, media, programs and events that promote awareness and unity of Asian American culture, artistry and identity. Signature events are Cocktails for a Cause and Fashion for a Passion, as well as the Artistic Scholarship fund. Their premiere documentary feature, Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam, has received the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film at the Vietnamese International Film Festival and the Documentary Audience Choice Award from the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. For more information, visit www.AgainstTheGrainProductions.com or www.TheBabylift.com.
ATG President/Founder Tammy Nguyen Lee was honored to be invited to speak at the recent SMU Meadows School of the Arts Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 12th and welcome new graduates on behalf of the Meadows Alumni.
Congratulations to all SMU Meadows Graduates and Arts Graduates nationwide! Read or watch Tammy’s welcome remarks below:
Congratulations, Graduates!….yes, I said GRADUATES! Let’s let that sink in for a moment. Feels good, right?
This is a special day, for you, for your friends, for your family. It represents the culmination of three, four, perhaps even five or more years of hard work, dedication, sacrifice, long days and nights of blood, sweat and tears.
Some of you may be the first in your family to follow this path. Some of you may be joining a tradition. Whichever the case, your unique journey lies ahead, and it is YOURS to make and YOURS to take.
This is a day of endings and beginnings. As I think back on what this day meant to me over a decade ago as an aspiring filmmaker, I’m sure many of you are feeling an assortment of emotions — happiness, excitement, relief, nervousness and anticipation. There are few moments in life that are quite like this, so cherish it.
One of the most important investments you have made in your education here at SMU is the network of people you have met. The relationships you have made will help support and propel you to new heights. From this day forward, you join the Meadows Alumni Community, an elite group of artists. These are some of the most influential communicators, trendsetters, thought provokers, movers and shakers, leaders. We are thrilled to have you a part of our family.
I cannot tell you how important this community has become to me. They are your future colleagues, bosses, and team members. Beyond letters of recommendation, from personal experience, I can affirm that they provide you the emotional, intellectual and artistic support that is second only to that of your own family. This is your SMU family that will look out for you, fight for you, share disappointments with you, lift you up and celebrate you.
When you picked up your diploma in the Hope Lobby, you were given a small gift from all Meadows Alumni to you- a holder for business cards. When you find your calling and put it on a card, you will always have those cards with you. You can also collect the cards of others who will want to invest in your journey.
Inside are several very important pieces of information on how to stay connected with the school and Meadows Alumni. One is a card with information on creating a legacy SMU email so we can always get in touch with you! Each day, you are creating your legacy. We look forward to hearing from you.
Be proud of being a Meadows alum. Stay in touch with us. Let us know about the accomplishments you’ve achieved. We want to share these milestones with you, celebrate you. Let us know when you need help. Our job doesn’t end here. It is to nurture you and make our community even stronger. We are a network available to you and we look forward to being in touch. One day, when you make it big, you will have “people.” Well, from the beginning, for now, and for always, WE are your people.
You have a special message to share, so make sure the world hears you, sees you, feels your spirit. I challenge you. Each and every day, move closer towards your goals and dreams. You have studied, you have trained. Practice time is over. You are now officially a SMU Meadows Alum.
Congratulations, again, GRADUATES! Now, as Dean Bowen commanded you, go start a movement!
Spotlight on Tammy Nguyen Lee (B.A. Film & Media Arts, ’00)
Wanting to positively impact the world, Nguyen Lee directs a nonprofit that promotes education, cultural awareness and Asian American artists.
by Mary Guthrie
Tammy Nguyen Lee’s life reads like a movie script: When she was just three months old, her mother took her out of war-torn Vietnam to a Hong Kong refugee camp, where they lived for over a year, then moved to the United States. She grew up in Garland, Texas, where she graduated near the top of her class and then accepted a scholarship to SMU. She won the title of Miss Asian American Texas at age 21. Majoring in Cinema (now Film & Media Arts) at SMU, she was a campus leader in the East Asian Student Association and the SMU Asian Council. After graduating in 2000, she earned her M.F.A. from UCLA, where she began work on an award-winning documentary, Operation Babylift. Motivated by the work she could do to positively impact the world, Nguyen Lee created the nonprofit organization Against The Grain, which promotes education, cultural awareness and Asian American artists. She is a television show consultant/producer and the energy behind an annual haute couture fashion show that raises money for orphanages in Asia. She met her husband, George Lee, a West Point graduate, while playing the role of his wife on a photo shoot. In 2010, SMU presented Nguyen Lee with the Emerging Leader Award, given to young alumni who show distinguished service and extraordinary achievement in a particular discipline, organization or cause. Shortly after receiving the award, she and George had their first child, a baby girl they named Gabriella.
MPRINT magazine visited with Tammy recently to catch up on the latest adventures in her life.
Tell us what you’ve been doing since received SMU’s 2010 Emerging Leader Award.
My life has been completely turned upside-down, from being someone who is incredibly organized and had life planned down to the second, to being a first-time parent learning to go with the flow.
One of the biggest lessons about becoming a parent was being able to adapt at a moments notice, because it’s never about you anymore, it’s about someone else. And that’s a good lesson for anyone. In life you should have a vision and a game plan, but be open to reading the winds of change and be able to adapt very quickly. The people who survive the best are the people who can learn to bend when the wind is strong. And the wind was really strong for me last year! [laughs]
Your mother was a big influence in your life. How has she mentored you?
She came to the U.S. [from Saigon, in 1978] in her early twenties, having to completely start over after the war. The family had everything taken away from us because of the Communist regime, and so the only way to have a better life was to leave. We came as boat people.
Coming here to the U.S., she had me [age three months], and then 7½ years later she had my sister. With two children, she worked two to three jobs, regained a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in record time, with honors. In Vietnam she was always at the top of her class, always doing extracurriculars.
She has a huge spirit of wanting more for her family. You see that a lot in first-generation refugees. She taught me that if you want something you have to work really hard for it, you have to be the best at it, you have to be prepared; you have to be willing to hear “no” and be willing to overcome it somehow. She’s always been an incredibly hard worker and overachiever and perfectionist, so I’ve learned a lot of good things from her and acquired a lot of quirks! [laughs]
After producing Operation Babylift, you were moved to create a nonprofit organization called Against The Grain Productions (ATG). What do you see in the future for ATG?
We’ll continue to create films and events to promote awareness and unity of the Asian American culture and identity.
We’re also expanding how much money we can give for scholarships. Last year we gave two $1,000 scholarships. One went to an SMU student, Meadows junior Monika Thao-Ngan Hoang (B.A. Creative Advertising, ‘13); she’s a wonderful girl. The grant helped her buy printing supplies and will help send her to the annual ONE Show ad conference in New York.
Fashion for a Passion is unconventional. The event raises funds for Asian orphanages, and we do it with designers, musicians, visual artists, singers, anyone who is involved in the arts. The spotlight is on the designers; many are from Dallas and Texas, but some are from New York and Los Angeles. In the past we had Ninh Nguyễn, now in New York, of NINH Collection, and Khanh Nguyễn of Nhã Khanh; Khanh just exploded after her first Fashion for a Passion show. Some of our designers are SMU grads, like Nikki Duong Koenig, owner of Cykochik Custom Handbags. Nikki started her collection when she was a student at SMU.
Operation Babylift was an impactful film that touched a lot of people. Looking ahead, are there other film projects you’d like to work on?
I’d love to get back into the hard issues, the issues people don’t want to talk about, like domestic violence. And children’s advocacy. As a mother you become more and more passionate about children and families and women’s issues. But it’s hard to find the time to pour into a film when raising a baby. There’s a lot I want to do. I want to find those people who have a voice but haven’t been heard.
There’s motherhood, family, Against The Grain…you also work as an independent television consultant?
Yes. Before my life as a mom, I was a full-time TV show development producer. I consulted on cable reality shows such as Girl Meets Gown (series for WE TV) and Ma’s Roadhouse (truTV). I continue to consult production companies who want to develop TV shows. I have the best of both worlds: I can stay home, set my hours, still be active doing what I’m good at, help pay the bills, and I still get to be around Gabby and ATG.
When you were a student at SMU, was there anyone who particularly inspired you or helped you on your career path?
There were always film professors who helped me grow as an artist. Professors like Rick Worland, Tom Bywaters and Kevin Heffernan always let me follow my muse and were supportive.
Raj Sethuraju was the Asian American student adviser. He was so pivotal. As Asian American students, leadership is not something that is instilled in us; we are taught to follow, not lead. He really inspired us to stand up and be heard and to come together as a group and represent.
What advice do you have for today’s SMU student?
I know that for me, I started out not being a typical SMU student. I didn’t rush Greek. I felt independent of the cultural fabric. I felt kind of like an outsider, watching to see where I fit in. I think the best way as a student, whether you feel like SMU is in your blood or you’re one of those students on the outside, is to dig in. That’s when I was able to find what I was good at, where I could give back.
While I was at SMU I was involved on campus. I was president of the East Asian Student Association and participated on Asian Council; I was Chair of the Program Council/Films Committee. That’s what plugged me into the mainstream SMU community.
A quotation I always live by is by Richard Bach, in his book Illusions. I read it when I was a senior in high school: “You’re never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however.”
SMU MPrint is a magazine for alumni and friends of SMU Meadows School of the Arts. Read the original online article here.
I was honored to be asked to be the keynote speaker at the SMU Crain All-University Leadership Conference, which took place on Saturday, February 4th just a few hours north of Dallas at the Tanglewood Resort in Pottsboro, Texas. This was a wonderful opportunity to get a chance to speak to young leaders from all over the campus who had come together for a weekend of inspiration. Although I was given several months notice to prepare for this event, actually coming up with a speech that would address this incredibly broad topic in a way that would be relevant and impactful to this young audience of student leaders was a bit of a challenge. It wasn’t until I watched an episode of American Idol that inspiration came (just goes to show you, you never know how or when inspiration will hit). I wanted to share this message of leadership with all of you:
Let me give you some background on some pivotal events that shaped my life – I came to this country as a boat person, less than 18 months old, a refugee from the bitter aftermath of the Vietnam War. My mother, in her early 20s, was from a well-to do educated, upper middle class family. Bravely, she had decided to escape her home country with a 3 month-old child for the opportunity for a better life. Under the communist regime, she would not be given the opportunity for a higher education and was forced to work in labor camps. Risking the unknown on the South China seas with an infant, she bravely set out to find a better path for us. We spent over a year in a refugee camp before being sponsored over to the U.S. by a church in Maryland.
Although I was less than two years-old when we arrived, the significance of getting the chance to start over with very little was never lost on me and has always defined our family’s lives and perspective. If you understand this, you appreciate all that this country can offer, as well as the enormity of the responsibility we have to our community and family overseas in Vietnam and here. As the first-born child of an immigrant family, we had to sacrifice so much, so working hard to achieve was a given. And it was in that way that leadership in me began.
From a young age, my mom taught me that ‘right and responsibility go hand in hand.’ So, even as a child growing up, I did what was needed to be done – in my family, in school, in the community…to help, to affect change, to make a difference. It was our responsibility, because we were given this right to freedom.
As a young adult, my values and my sense of identity evolved. Up until that point, I always wanted to fit into the mainstream…and as an Asian American, like many of us that are bi-cultural, that really is a challenge. How do you fit in when you look so different? There was the racism and the identity issues. I learned to express myself and find my voice through writing and through Theatre. I became curious about how I was different and embraced my uniqueness. Instead of becoming something my parents expected and wanted of me (like to be a lawyer, as they still do this day), I chose a different path for myself. That need to express myself became my career path – to become a filmmaker, to tell stories that would educate and inspire others. Being a leader is often about taking the road less traveled, being a pioneer, and as a Vietnamese female, I began the path down the road so few had traveled before, lighting the way for others to follow.
By the time I entered SMU, I already had a dream of how I could make my mark, how I wanted to change the world – through film and philanthropy. Coming to SMU and being involved in student activities gave me an even deeper understanding of people and how to be a better leader. On campus, I was the President of the East Asian Student Association and Chair of Program Council Films. I served on the Board of Asian Council and was an active member of many other organizations like VSA, Student Filmmakers Association, even wrote for the Daily Campus. I got a chance to flex my vision, learn about what I stood for, tested my beliefs. I learned how to plan and program events, how to deal with people and how not to, how to listen. I had a great time and made wonderful memories. I made lasting relationships with those I still work with today. Having these experiences and skills were critical to my work today as a producer and in my charity work. The more I was involved, the more I found out just what my unique skills were, what my voice was, and how I could continue to help others. My experience as a leader on campus became a springboard for what I would do later in life.
After graduation, I became actively involved with the Vietnamese Community of Greater Dallas. It was there, while directing a play, that I heard about Operation Babylift, a topic that would later come back to redefine my life. I was accepted to study at the prestigious UCLA Producers Program, and it was upon graduation that I was given a grant to start developing my documentary. Nearly five years later, it was done, but it wasn’t without a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I’ll tell you this, I used every skill I learned as a student leader. Out of Operation Babylift was born another dream – the creation of our non-profit, Against The Grain Productions.
With our non-profit, I have found a way to combine all the things I love and dreamed about – creating media that will enlighten, engage, inspire and educate others. In addition, we raise money to help needy orphanages in Vietnam – those who have no one looking out for them, so that they can have a future, like I was given. On top of that, we have committed three scholarships this year –we are giving two $1,000 Artistic Scholarships for exemplary Asian American students pursuing a degree in the arts, to help those who dreamed like me. One of the last year’s winners is a SMU student! The other is the Sunna Lee Leadership Scholarship, a $5,000 scholarship for an Asian American student who has exhibited outstanding leadership ability. I’m so proud of this organization, because not only does it allow me to give back, it is a place where we are growing more leaders, many of whom I am honored to say, I have served with while at SMU.
My husband, who is a West Point graduate, former Army captan and Ranger, says that ‘great leadership comes from hardship.’ I tend to agree. What are some of the qualities of a great leader? Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- #1 Persistence of Vision and Innovation – You have to have a vision and follow it fearlessly. Being bold, thinking not just out of the box, but strategically to know where is your goal and how you will get there. What are your priorities? What’s your game plan? Seeing how things have been done and where things need to change for the better. I think this has probably always been my #1 strength, next to…
- #2 Passion – Having a fire in your belly that drives you forward in the face of adversity. It will power your drive, dedication, perseverance and commitment.
- #3 Be a good and compassionate listener – For me, being of strong mind and strong vision, one of the hardest things was learning to be open to the opinions of others when they differ from my own (just ask my husband!) You may just learn something that can make you a better leader. Being a dictator is one way to get results, but it won’t make you a great leader. It’s a surefire way to alienate yourself and get you on the road to zero productivity and a coup!
- #4 Have confidence in your vision – But prepare yourself to have a thick skin for any criticism that may come. Have no fear of what people will say, of being involved in controversy, of hearing negativity and the discomfort that comes with it. Leadership isn’t always about popularity.
- #5 Resourcefulness – Who is your team? Who do you know that can help you? Who is in your network? Who shares your vision? What partners are going to help you achieve your goals? Not taking no for an answer. If you hear no, what’s the back-up plan? How can you turn it into a ‘yes?’
- #6 Have great communication – whether written or verbal, use your voice in a way that others will hear you and be influenced by your message.
- #7 Building a strong team – you can’t do it alone. What’s a leader without those who follow? Nurture and strengthen these relationships. Grow their skills. Learn how to let others lead and shine, too.
- #8 Being effective and getting results – Your track record is your credibility that allows people to trust you.
- #9 Honesty and integrity Again – no one wants a leader they can’t trust.
- #10 Doing the dirty work – Being a leader isn’t always a glamorous job. You have to take the initiative to do the job, get it done, get it done right, even when no one else wants to. You can’t just delegate – you have to set the example.
As a producer, as the founder of a charity now, and as a leader, these are values that I hold dear. Thinking about some of these fundamental questions and what the answers are will help you, no matter what field you plan to enter.
Being a leader is not about a title – it’s about a commitment to serve. It’s not just something you stick on your resume, it’s for your life and the lives of others. And remember, you don’t need a title to be a leader.
What you are doing now is getting to learn about yourself and what’s important to your life — whether that’s your values, your career or your sense of identity. You’re learning also about other people’s cultures, to develop your own career interests and to help other people. Because how you can you truly serve your community if you do not understand yourself and them?
As leaders, you are given an extra responsibility. Dare to believe…but be prepared to work your butt off. There will be physical challenges. There will be mental and emotional challenges. Serve honestly, fairly, with innovation and integrity. It’s a hard journey not for the faint of heart, and you have to love it.
I’m a female and a minority in an industry that has had very little fair representation of either. My dream was to be able to make an impact on the world with the stories I had to tell, stories that I felt would better help people understand the human condition. Whether I consciously set out to at the time or not, I became a leader.
Now, I’m a mother…with another child soon on the way. I think about all the things I have done as a community leader, and what are the values and lessons that I will teach my children. I don’t think they are that different than what I’m telling you now. In every way, in every day, I think of how can I pay it forward to my best ability. That is the way I can lead. I tell you this story about my life because this was my path to leadership. Each of you will have a different path.
As leaders, you are coming to figure out who you are, your style, your goals and in the next few years, you will be put to the test. People will ask you, “what are you all about, what do you want to do?” What are you going to tell them?
The question is not “is leadership in you?” It’s “how is leadership in you?” …Don’t be afraid of the obstacles that will come your way. Like many leaders who have gone before you, face them bravely, because in the end, that’s the only way you will achieve your dreams. I hope you continue to work towards your dreams, and I look forward to seeing what you will do!