The Impact of PAACH

Majid Mubeen C’17 was on the APALI board during his time at PAACH.

PAACH has always just been a welcoming place. It’s the vibe of a smile put into a space. Because that is what everyone does – smile when you come in.

I remember one day I pulled a friend of mind who had had a particularly tough week to PAACH. We went for an Animal Pottery event, and Kusum was there smiling. The place was packed and everyone was eating and making little animal figures. The air just hummed with laughter and it felt like a smile. We sat down, had a few scoops of ice scream and then just massaged our stress away into the figurines. We had two full stomachs, a clay camel, and big smiles plastered over our faces. After 8 semesters here, I think I’ll be carrying a piece of that smile where I go. PAACH taught me what it means to be welcomed, and I’ve realized that welcome can be a rare thing. Beyond Penn, I’d like to keep that a part of me – to always be welcoming and warm.

Sasha Verma C’12
was a work study student at PAACH who graduated in 2012. She currently works in New York for Body Labs.

Working at PAACH, I feel like it’s hard to choose just one memory. I remember PAACH the most when it was filled with students of all ages, prepping for an event for APAHW, APSC or some other student organization with Kusum. Those were my favorite times – to me a regular day at PAACH. Because of the administration at PAACH, it really was clear that we really were the center of pan-Asian American community life at Penn. Working at PAACH was an opportunity to learn about how diverse and different the Pan-Asian American identity is. PAACH sparked my activist spirit that is incredibly vital to being a minority in this country, especially during these politically difficult times. Without PAACH, my learning process may have come later, especially understanding how needs are different within and outside my own communities. 

Neha Sahni C’09 and W’09
, was heavily involved in the programming at PAACH, having been involved in the signature leadership and mentoring programs as well in the campus-wide Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. She is currently working in Finance and based in New York City.  In her own words:

The Pan-Asian American Community House was integral to my development as a young adult. Being chosen for APALI my freshmen spring provided me with a leadership tool-kit that gave me the ability to run an organization starting my sophomore year, but also the confidence to speak with my peers and find ways to help them. I found PAACH programs such as APALI, APAHW, and PEER unique because they allowed you to help others while also allowing you to find yourself. There were many days during my four years when my grades and community involvement were on track, but I, myself was lost. The afternoons I spent around PAACH became escapes where everyone accepts others and I accepted myself. In total, my time at PAACH and my involvement with PAACH programs gave me the opportunity to help others while helping myself, a lesson and skill that I took with me when I went to Oxford and will take with me as I embark into the real world.

Wilson Tong W’09 was a graduate of both PAACH’s PEER mentoring program and the APALI leadership program.  During his senior year he was elected Chair of the Undergraduate Assembly, and PAACH was proud to have been a part of his Penn success, particularly as he was the first Asian American UA Chair at Penn.  He is currently an Analyst at Lazard Bank, based in New York City.  He shared this with us:

People often say that what one decides to make of his or her own time and energy in college will largely determine the overall richness of the experience from academics to extracurricular activities to work to socializing and partying.  Now, as a newly-minted alumnus, I can certainly attest the reality of that thinking, and I believe that PAACH played a very significant role in my own involvements both inside and outside of the classroom.  I believe that PAACH more than any other institution at Penn with its programming and community fundamentally shaped and influenced my experiences and personal development on campus from an early point.  PAACH provided me with tremendous opportunities to explore my personal identity as an Asian American and college student on Penn’s campus and in the world and to meet many Asian American students and beyond from diverse backgrounds and with both similar and dissimilar interests and personalities.  For me, what was even more important than the PAACH programming was the everlasting support that the community and its staff offered me.  This foundation was absolutely the most valuable aspect of PAACH in my Penn experience, particularly when I was not directly participating in PAACH programs.  In the end, PAACH helped me to gain the confidence and know how that was necessary to set my expectations high and achieve in a meaningful way at Penn.  One of the unintended consequences of this ambition ultimately was my becoming a leader in student government.  While I think that being the UA Chair was a great experience, one that I am very proud of.  I know that being the first UA Chair who was Asian American made the experience even better.  There is no doubt that besides a personal sense of pride, I actually am more proud that I was a product of PAACH, its community, and its programming.&nbsp
; I think that I was one of the unlikeliest of candidates to excel in traditional campus activities, and I am fortunate that I was well-prepared to step it up.  As with all organizations, I believe that there is more work ahead for PAACH, but that in its short history, PAACH as a resource and community center has become an invaluable asset to not only Asian and Asian American students and the broader student body, but to the entire Penn community.

Swathi Bonda W’07 served as President of the South Asia Society during her senior year at Penn.  She currently resides in Washington DC and works for Fannie Mae.  A frequenter of PAACH, she shares this with us:

If you were to walk into the ARCH Lobby on any weekday, you would undoubtedly notice the hustle and bustle emanating from the Pan-Asian American Community House (PAACH). I am often asked why PAACH is always substantially fuller and busier compared to the other minority resource centers. Is it a function of Penn’s large Asian Pacific American (APA) population or the central location of the ARCH? I would argue that, while these factors play a role, what attracts most PAACH regulars to the resource center is the people. Penn’s APA population has the potential to be quite fragmented, with divisions drawn according to ethnicity, generation and interests. Therefore, it can be difficult to establish the unity needed to propel broader APA interests on Penn’s campus. PAACH staff works to provide APA students with the programming and interaction needed to foster individual and organizational growth within the community. I will now discuss the role PAACH staff has played in my personal development and organizational accomplishments.

Being involved in campus politics on a student level can be an incredibly draining and emotional experience. Therefore, it is necessary for student leaders to be given a strong support system to rely on. PAACH staff assists students in this regard by facilitating structured leadership development programs and providing one-on-one counseling. Programs, like the Asian Pacific American Leadership Initiative, have provided me with the language and skills necessary to articulate my political opinion and effectively lead organizations. However, when my own skill set is not enough to accomplish my goals, I rely on PAACH staff to help me objectively tackle the tasks at hand. I have used PAACH staff to test drive ideas, mediate conflict within my organization and regain motivation. PAACH has helped me move past some of the most demoralizing, frustrating moments of my undergraduate career by simply reaching out and showing me the possibilities that lie in perseverance.

Aaron Hoo was a PAACH regular who graduated in 2007. Spending a year after graduation working in the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, Aaron continued to frequent PAACH even as an alumnus. He is currently conducting medical research in Honolulu, Hawaii.

PAACH would not be the kind of place it is without its three staff members. I came to Penn from Hawaii, probably about as far as you can be without being an international student. My first year was miserable. All I could think about was how homesick I was and how much I missed my friends and family back home. I found it hard to relate to my classmates, most of whom were no more than a car ride away from home. Things got better in my second year as I adjusted to being so far away. I found a home in the Penn Hawaii Club, yet I still did not feel a sense of personal attachment to the University. Beyond the classes, dorm life, and Hawaii club activities, something was missing. As I became more acquainted with the people, I started to bring my lunch to eat there. All joking aside, I realized that I had finally found my niche at Penn. I found friends I could relate to and people who understood my background and where I was coming from. The people there embraced the diversity I added to the mix. I felt like I could be myself yet also feel like I was a part of campus at the same time.

Now, you might ask, how does this specifically pertain to the staff members? PAACH would definitely not be the place it is without June Chu, Shiella Cervantes, and Kusum Soin. They themselves have created the nurturing, caring, and comfortable environment that defines PAACH. Beyond her oversight responsibilities as director, June has really been someone students can turn to with their problems. Whether it was academic or personal issues, June welcomed anyone into her office and offered advice, counseling, and just an ear to listen. June’s openness and willingness to help students with their problems really made PAACH a comfortable place and a safe haven.  As associate director, Shiella coordinated many of the PAACH programs and worked intimately with the students to successfully execute these programs. In addition, Shiella helped to foster a fun and informal atmosphere in PAACH. She held monthly movie screenings open to anyone interested, and even took students who were around in the summer on excursions to discover Philadelphia. Many people who have spent time in PAACH would not disagree that Kusum is the PAACH mother. Beyond telling us to clean up our trash and keep PAACH neat, Kusum was the adopted motherly figure who consoled us when we got bad grades, made sure we were healthy and getting enough sleep, and even cooked for us on occasion. Without doubt, her job description does not entail these things.

Surely, as seen by the often standing room only space in PAACH, I cannot be the only one who has benefited from the amazing PAACH staff. I regret not having found PAACH till my third year. PAACH helped me to feel like I belonged to the University and made me proud to be a Penn student. In a large university like Penn, places like PAACH are vital to cater to and be inclusive of the wide diversity of the student body. PAACH’s staff members have more than fulfilled this mission.

Jun Li C’07, was former
Chair of the Asian Pacific Student Coalition.  She has currently relocated back to Philadelphia, where she is in the Teach For America program.

The Pan-Asian American Community House has defined my time at Penn. Through PAACH, I was able to get involved in the activities that I passionately care about now — including serving the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, dancing for Penn Philippine Association, and joining Sigma Psi Zeta Sorority. It is also where I was able to understand myself and see myself in context of a bigger society — specifically through programming such as the Asian Pacific American Leadership Initiative and Promoting Enriching Experiences and Relationships. It is where I met other Asian Pacific American student leaders, and it provided the foundation for me to branch out and meet student leaders from across campus.  However, I would not have been to have such a fulfilling experience at PAACH without the three core staff members who keep it open and make it our home. Without the staff at Penn, I do not know if half of us have gotten as far as we have in terms of leadership skills and in terms of our will to effect change.

Brian Vo W’06 was an active member of the Asian American community while an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania.  As President of the Vietnamese Student Association during his senior year at Penn, Brian was involved in sharing Vietnamese culture across campus, while building coalitions with other Asian American groups at Penn. Last year, he was elected President of the Union of North American Vietnamese Students Associations (  The national organization, six years old, seeks to unite all Vietnamese Student organizations across the United States and Canada to empower Vietnamese youth through leadership and personal development. uNAVSA leads an annual national grassroots movement to fundraise as a community for a selected philanthropy project. Over the course of the past 12 months, under the tireless efforts of Brian, uNAVSA raised $45,000 for VietHope ( A few words from Brian about PAACH’s role in his educational career:

PAACH created the community that had the single most significant impact on my undergraduate career and leadership development, from freshmen to senior year.  PAACH pioneered the programming that created the leaders who inspired me to believe I could make a difference with my single voice.  I relied on the passion, experience and wisdom of the PAACH community as I grew into leadership roles in my organizations.  The personal support and constructive feedback I received guided my own development as a leader in our campus community and helped me develop a sense of ownership as part of a broader Asian American community outside of Penn’s walls.  As President of uNAVSA, a national youth-driven effort to empower the Vietnamese American community, I rely heavily on the basic principles I learned as part of the PAACH and minority coalition communities: identity, leadership, community organization, consensus/coalition-building and passion.  Through the dedicated staff, inspirational programming, and passionate community that sprung up within the walls of Arch, I was given the opportunity to develop the skills that have allowed me to take our work and message beyond the boundaries of Penn’s campus, to Vietnamese youth from across the United States, and even Canada.