Wednesday, May 6, 2009

ODU's Best Kept Secret

"Structure your time at ODU to enrich your collegiate experience and build meaningful relationships"

- Janille De Guzman

Some of you may know her as "Starbucks girl" or "Webb Center girl," but I know her as someone who is genuinely amazing with her heart in the right place. I met Janille spring semester of my freshman year in my pre-calc class, it's a pretty funny story actually. One day as I was walking through Webb on my way to study for our third exam, I noticed her sitting in the cyberloft area by Starbucks (where she always sits at all hours of the day, hence why people call her "Starbucks girl"), so I approached her to see if she was studying for pre-calc because I needed help. I automatically assumed that she was good at math because she was Asian and she looked like she did not speak English, but boy was I wrong!

From that day on, my life has drastically changed. It's ironic how everything happened; it all started with me stereotyping her and now one of my passions is to break stereotypes of Asian-Americans portrayed in the media. Along with that, if I had never met Janille I would not be who I am today and I would not be passionate about the work I do in the Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) community. Janille amazes me with everything she does, here’s some background info on her:

Janille De Guzman hails from the island of Guam and has always been a powerful advocate committed to underserved communities. She first served as a Judiciary Intern in the Office of Senator Ted Kennedy on Capitol Hill. While there, she worked on Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act while responding to demanding legislative emergencies. Subsequently, she worked on protecting voter rights for disenfranchised minorities at the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in Washington, DC. She was distinguished with the Bailey Award for her profound commitment to service and has also been profiled in the national list of Who’s Who Among Students. Studying economics with a focus on the urban community at Old Dominion University, she is passionate about empowering those coming up behind her. She rebuilt the Asian Pacific American Student Union (APASU) infrastructure as its president by galvanizing and creating a more cohesive community on campus and was recognized with the OSAL Leader of the Year Award for her remarkable vision and contribution. Janille currently also serves as the Executive Assistant to Yul Kwon, CNN Special Correspondent and winner of the hit CBS reality show, Survivor: Cook Islands.

That's only a brief highlight, but I’m sure you want to know more. I have never met anyone as driven and dedicated as her, she also has a great balance of life. After spending countless nights studying for pre-calc and making numerous study breaks at Domo Sushi with her, Janille became a role model to me. She was the one who informed me about Asian-American issues (I didn't even know we had issues) and from then on it led me wanting to know more. So we started meeting up more on campus to speak about her past experiences and how I could get more involved in the APIA community and on-campus. Next thing you know fall semester comes around and we’re working together to rebuild the dissolved Asian Pacific American Student Union (APASU) at ODU.

When I was reading the assignment for this challenge, Janille was the first person that came to mind, I didn't have to think twice about who I wanted to interview. I wanted to profile her because I’ve learned so much from her and thought it was time I share her with all of you and not keep her all to myself. But of course, I also wanted to reveal ODU’s best kept secret.

Janille, congratulations on being honored with the OSAL Undergraduate Leader of the Year Award! How did it feel to take home the award of the evening?

Thanks, Christie. I can't tell you how shocked I was when I was called on because there were so many other highly qualified nominees that I admire. But nonetheless, I was incredibly honored. Out of all the awards I've ever received, this one probably means the most to me, because my ODU family was a part of every step along the way.

How did you get involved on campus?
Well, in high school I worked a lot and had several different jobs simultaneously so I didn’t really have the opportunity to get involved with extracurricular activities. I wanted to make sure my experience was different in college, so when the opportunity came around, I definitely made it a point to attend all the interesting events and activities offered.

Did you go to events by yourself? And what was your motive to go?
Usually, I would attend campus events and meet friends there, though I would encourage freshmen to not be deterred in attending just because they don’t have anyone to accompany them – eventually, they’ll meet someone at one these events that share their same interests.

Was there an organization you found particularly interesting on-campus?
There are so many organizations at ODU with worthwhile efforts, but the one organization that I really cared about was APASU because I was naturally interested in its values. APASU is the umbrella organization for all of the APA orgs on-campus that serves to help students gain civic and political empowerment, cultivate professional development, and strengthen interpersonal dynamics.

What made you so passionate about APASU?
I honestly believe that if APASU didn’t exist during my time at ODU, I wouldn’t be privileged enough to have the invaluable opportunities that came my way. I got involved with APASU because I wanted to make sure APA students on-campus had an outlet to serve their interests and had a voice at the decision-making table.

What is one valuable tip you have for incoming freshmen as they begin to embark on their collegiate experience?
Find yourself -- figure out who you are, and really give some thought to the kind of person you want to become. Equally important, I would encourage freshmen to challenge themselves because you don't want to leave college and be the same exact person that you came in as -- you need to grow individually. So structure your time at ODU to enrich your collegiate experience and build meaningful relationships.

Is that how you feel a person grows (being challenged)?
One way people can contribute to their individual growth is to challenge themselves – not only academically, but also emotionally and physically. Surround yourself with people who are going in the direction you want to go towards. When you push yourself to operate near or past your limit, you’ll discover your capabilities.

How exactly do you balance your life, being that you are the President of APASU, working for Yul Kwon, managing grades and a social life? How do you find that medium for yourself?
It’s demanding sometimes, but I think if you really care about what you do, it won’t be difficult to find time for the things you find meaningful.

Do you think that having a high GPA is important? If you could go back in time to ONLY focus on your grades would you?
Being academically focused is important because you don’t want to find out that your grades aren’t good enough when you finally discover what you want to do in the future. Conversely, if your life is only revolved around producing a substantially high GPA, then you may be forgoing unique experiences that can make a distinct impact on your life.

What's an important life lesson that you will always carry with you?
You can create your own luck – all it requires is overcoming your self-limiting beliefs and not giving up.

Is there anything else you would like others to know?
Never forget the people who have helped you along the way. Then help those coming up behind you the same way others have helped you. That way, together we can all push forward and create a more vibrant community.

So remember, you can create your own luck by creating your own opportunities. Be PROACTIVE.

Janille, I cannot thank you enough for everything you have done for me. Thank you for opening the door for me in finding my passion.

Top Photo Credit: Emma Chepkwony