Meet Our 2018 Scholarship Finalists

Through our Scholarship Program, ATG proudly awards Artistic, Groundbreaker Leadership, #LiveLikeLyly and most recently the Lily Pabilona Emerging Entrepreneur scholarships to a select group of amazing Asian American high school seniors, college undergraduate and graduate school students who are shining examples of what it means to go Against The Grain. Since 2011, we have awarded more than $60,000 in scholarships. Our selection committee reviews a combination of criteria: GPA, extracurricular activities, portfolio, essay and letters of recommendation. Finalists are given a phone interview before deciding who will be our actual winners. Winners will be announced in our 2018 August e-Newsletter, so stay tuned…

Meet Our 2018 Scholarship Finalists:

  • Dan Ta
  • Amy Jiravisitcal
  • Derek Chung
  • Jana “Sze Ching” Choi
  • Isabella Li Kostrzewa
  • Jasmine Cho
  • Joseph Zhang
  • Ashley Zhu
  • Isaiah Wu
  • Aaron Geldert

Dan Ta | 18 years old | GPA: 4.14 | UC Irvine – Business Administration | Vietnamese American

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

To go “Against The Grain” is to go against the brushes, the thorns, the mud, the untamed grass, the unruly branches, and yet reach the end of our path, our destination.

Those who go “Against The Grain” are the trailblazers, the pioneers who set precedence for the infinite possibilities that lay beyond the vast expanse of conformity. They wear down the path so that others may have ease traveling the road that was once unknown.”

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

“I find the nearest barley field and roll in it!

Kidding aside, to go “Against The Grain,” I try not to repeat what has already been done and charted. I strive to create value out of nothing!

I rallied my peers and community to join my mission to spread financial literacy awareness. First, I created alongside my peers the financial literacy club, Penny Wise Club. Unfortunately, the club wasn’t enough to motivate others to see the importance of financial literacy.

To set importance to our cause, we invited the biggest name we can find — the California State Treasurer — and hosted a financial literacy event. After the event becoming wildly successful, the biggest success that came from this event is being able to inspire those who participated that anything is possible.

Going “Against The Grain” gives me the experience and the courage to chart the next paths of my journey in life. I hope to continue to inspire others to challenge the norm and set precedence of their own paths.”

Amy Jiravisitcul | 26 years old | GPA: 3.86 | Harvard Graduate School of Education – Ed.M in Education Policy and Management | Chinese and Thai American

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

“While it may be more secure and polite to go with the grain, by upholding existing structures and procedures, the notion of going ‘Against The Grain’ speaks to a willingness to diverge from tradition and challenge the status quo. It involves thinking critically about successes and shortcomings of previous/current methods and having the courage to envision something innovative or unprecedented. By carrying out that vision, the leaders of groundbreaking changes will guide progress in their field. Traditionally, modern American society and culture was built upon centuries of oppression and European dominance. As Asian Pacific Islander leaders, going against the grain means to shift the narrative of the Asian American professional, to challenge the perspective that we are a forever-foreign, docile, monolithic group that can be easily subjugated and manipulated to uphold injustice. When I look among other noteworthy API leaders in politics, community organizing, academics, arts, I see the groundbreakers as those who amplify voices and perspectives that were traditionally excluded and overlooked in the mainstream. In order to be an effective leader–no matter the field–we need to continuously question our strategies and experiences, and ultimately take risks that will further align us with our principles and values.”

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

“Although they both came from impoverished and unstable communities in Southeast Asia, my parents went against the grain by starting a new life in a society that persistently labelled them as foreign. They instilled a sense of pride in our Chinese heritage as they raised me and my two older brothers in our predominantly white Connecticut suburb. Their story informs mine, in that I have developed a drive to push beyond perceived limitations. In my academic and professional experience, I have challenged stereotypes of the model minority and diverged from the dominant narrative of what the behaviors and outcomes are for people who look like me. I focused my efforts in education, challenging the stereotypes of first generation students of color in this country, and questioning how we can dismantle the traditional structures that perpetuate disparity. I spent the past three years in Boston working in direct service for middle school students of historically marginalized communities, and I gained a strong understanding of exactly how institutions from elite private schools to the oldest urban public school system in America can perpetuate practices that disservice the vast majority of Boston students. While I was “on the ground” running the out-of-school-time program, I also questioned the dynamics of leadership, and why there was a sense of stagnancy and disconnect between the organizational leaders and the populations we serve. I did not want to stay in a position where I felt comfortable in my capabilities to serve students, yet frustrated with complacency of leadership from a previous generation. I decided to pursue my master’s and gain the credibility and experience needed to propel myself to a director-level position, making influential decisions on programming while having had the experience of being first-generation myself and connecting with students and families. The grain within the non-profit sector is predominantly white and affluent, when it comes to executives, funders, and board members, especially as organizations grow in size and revenue. My education and professional development is going against that grain, hopefully paving the way for other leaders like myself, as well as for the student populations I can be serving in the future. As a further step toward education equity in our society, I envision students seeing their communities and voices reflected in the adults who hold power in their learning environment.”

Derek Chung |18 years old | GPA: 4.51 | Stanford University – Music and Computer Science | Korean American

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

“Going ‘Against The Grain’ means to do what you’re passionate about, even in the face of disapproval. People who go against the grain have a desire to be genuine, and often times, inspire others around them to do the same. These individuals are constantly stepping out of their comfort zones, showing the world that it’s perfectly okay to be yourself and do what you believe in. And even when their life is in despair and no one is there to support them, these people remain true to who they are and continue to go ‘Against The Grain.'”

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

“I have gone against the grain by using piano performance to benefit my community. In 2016, I co-founded a not-for-profit organization called 88Keys to Cure that uses music as a platform to bring awareness to various causes in local communities. Through 88Keys, I organized and performed in various benefit concerts, sharing my love for music with others and raising money for local charities. I’ve raised a total of over $25,000 for the NICU at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the Robotics Surgical Division at UIC, and relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.

Music isn’t just a solitary activity where one spends hours alone in a practice room. Music is a universal language that can have an impact far beyond the performer when spoken. Yet support for music and the arts is in decline. Recently, there have been discussions in Washington about discontinuing the National Endowment for the Arts, which makes up less than 0.01% of the federal budget. Having seen how powerful classical music can be, I have gone against the grain to preserve music in society.”

Jana “Sze Ching” Choi – 21 years old | GPA: 3.98 | Virginia Commonwealth University – Graphic Design | Chinese American

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

To me, going “Against the Grain” means speaking my mind and sharing my perspective, even if that puts me in the minority. It means not being afraid of being pegged as over-opinionated or too outspoken, because I think that my voice as a young Asian American is significant and powerful. Especially in the United States, it’s important to me that I advocate for myself and minority communities so that we may contribute our cultural “aboutness” and experiences to societal understanding. Sometimes going “Against the Grain” places us in uncomfortable situations, but it is so important to overcome this discomfort in order to grow as people and communities.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

“I go /Against The Grain’ because I am passionate and interested in diaspora stories and the coexistence of many thriving cultures in the United States. Moreover, I believe that in order to uphold diversity, people must be committed to sharing their experiences and in turn listen to the experiences of others. That is why as a graphic designer, I go “Against the Grain” and do my best to make work which cultivates spaces where the perspectives of women and people of color may be privileged. With this goal in mind, I affect positive change in my community by providing platforms for discourse surrounding marginalized bodies via my design practice. My work encompasses a body of publications and projects which shine a spotlight on topics such as Asian Americans in Media, and gender discrimination in politics.

For example, I designed and self-published a book entitled Yellow Fever about presentations of Asian American sexuality. The book is a compendium of academic writing, personal stories, fiction, and images which delves into the objectification and colonization of feminine Asian bodies in America. This project was both a personal exploration of how I move through the world as a Chinese-American woman, as well as a way for me to connect with other Asian-American women and discuss a topic that I feel is taboo or brushed off in our community.

My hope is that my work can serve as a starting point for members of my community to discuss their viewpoints and find others who commiserate with their experiences. It can be difficult to bring up and consider the nuanced aspects of societies and communities, and go ‘Against The Grain,’ which is why I think it is the job of socially-engaged artists and designers to provide the space to do so.”


Isabella Li Kostrzewa | 18 years old | GPA: 3.82 | Parsons the New School of Design – Fashion Design | Taiwanese American

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

To go ‘Against The Grain’ means you really have to create your own path and do things differently, in ways that no one else has done before. Through deciding to go against the grain and not follow the status quo, but to really dig deep and find one’s own voice, comes a unique perspective that really reveals itself in an artists work and even the way that they can view the world. It’s definitely not easy, but because of the hard work and creativity involved in the process of going against what everyone else is doing, often history has shown us that the best creators, designers, innovators, and leaders were ones that thought out of the box, created their own paths and indeed went ‘Against The Grain.'”

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

“Working towards being an environmentally friendly designer in the world’s second most wasteful industry,(fashion) has me set going against the grain from the start. It’s so easy for people to turn a blind eye towards the waste and pollution that mass textile production has on the environment, and to continue contributing to the ways of fast fashion, but that’s where I come in. I have always thought out of the box, especially when it came to design. As I continued to study the design process, many of the not so glamorous effects of fast fashion were revealed to me, in turn inspiring me to use my passion for fashion to help better the world. By creating new designs that result in less than 1 percent waste, working with recycled and non raw materials, and calling for a shift in buying habits, I stand ‘Against The Grain.’ It is through my work that I hope people can start to see that there are other options than going with the flow of fast fashion. Working to create zero waste designs has been one of the most challenging and rewarding endeavours of my life but for that I am all the more thankful and proud of what I do.”

Jasmine Cho | 34 years old | GPA: 4.0 | Carlow University – Art Therapy | Korean American

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?

“Going ‘Against The Grain’ means to pursue a path you know to be true for you in your heart regardless of external conventions and norms. It means to develop an ability to filter through various influences and to meet resistance with persistence; it requires courage, grit, and vision to go ‘Against The Grain.'”

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

“I have gone ‘Against The Grain’ by combining my passions in pastry and social justice to create an online bakery business known for using cookie art to speak on matters of representation. I am going against the grain now as a non-traditional undergraduate student who will be a first-generation college graduate by the age of 35. I hope to continue to go against the grain, as I pursue studies in art and expressive therapies to pioneer the nation’s first research-based, trauma-informed bake therapy program and offer a creative form of healing and empowerment to marginalized communities. “

Joseph Zhang | 18 years old | GPA: 4.24 | Carnegie Mellon – Bachelor of Design | Chinese American
What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”
Going ‘Against The Grain’ is so much more than deviating from the status quo. To me, going ‘Against The Grain’ suggests a deeper and more passionate desire to express one’s individuality, to ability to set aside the expectations of your peers/colleagues and ultimately decide how you personally want to impact your sphere of influence. Many people today consciously try to do things different with no deeper intention than to simply stand out. Going ‘Against The Grain’ should be a clear reflection of what you as an artist/thinker want to personally convey with your work.
How do you go “Against The Grain?”
As an artist and future design major, I go ‘Against The Grain’ through my artwork. With so many problems that need to be addressed in my community today, I aspire to inspire change through visual design. While I do have education in traditional drawing, I feel myself naturally gravitate towards contemporary art in the form of digital, physical, and often a combination of both. My unorthodox approaches towards design allows me to express myself the way I intend to, a form of expression that comes from nothing else but my own passion.

Ashley Zhu | 18 years old | GPA: 4.0 | Washington University in St. Louis – Communications Design | Chinese American

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

“I think to go ‘Against The Grain’ does not mean to fly in the face of tradition, but to use your tradition, your heritage, your background to create something new for the future. It means to rise up from passivity and speak, to use a unique voice to communicate a point of view that comes from endless stories from ancestors to the present. To be among the grain is to flow by others constantly without leaving a mark. Change can only happen if there is resistance if someone stops, and if someone speaks. Going ‘Against The Grain’ is to have true awareness of your effect on others, and how you, in reciprocal fashion, are affected. ”

How do you go “Against The Grain?”
“I go ‘Against The Grain’ by always trying to combine ways of life. People are made up of so many different components that I think making interdisciplinary art is necessary. I am an artist, a dancer, a writer, and a filmmaker because creation is how I go against the grain to show how I view the world and how I want to change it. I love making and being influenced by activist art because it has the power to heal entire communities. Going ‘Against The Grain’ also means being able to be uncertain. So many people are set and certain in their views or ways of life that they are no longer open to other thoughts and turn to hatred. I want to dive into ambiguity, into the thresholds of Chinese and American cultures, and be uncertain and curious about what makes a person whole. I believe in contemporary news or politics, people are often looking out for themselves, praising independence and self-sufficiency. However self-sufficiency can easily transform into self-centeredness. It is growing rarer to find those focused on the whole, on solidarity, on healing everyone and not just helping the self. I think art has a way of transcending language barriers and touching the lives of every person, allowing people to truly become aware of what the artist wants. In my art, I want to show the wonder and joy that is the human connection, and how we all influence one another. Love comes from a willingness to love, and in my art, I want to spread that openness, that awareness, and that joy. “

Isaiah Wu | 18 years old | GPA: 4.243 | Eastman School of Music – Cello Performance and Music Education | Taiwanese

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

“Going ‘Against the Grain’ means standing firm in your beliefs, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. It also means living out those beliefs in a way that positively influences the people around you, encouraging them to make a difference in the world too. People who go ‘Against The Grain’ are contagious; when one person takes the time to make an impact on the lives of people, it causes them to do the same for others too.”
How do you go “Against The Grain?”
“I go ‘Against The Grain’ by integrating faith with music and community service. While many people separate their work lives with their faith, I focus on letting my beliefs drive my musical work. I acknowledge that God gave me the gift of music, and I am dedicated to developing that gift in order to most effectively serve God and my community. I just finished a 6-week summer festival called Credo Music. Credo’s mission statement includes acknowledging God as the source of musical gifts, developing the gift, and responding with service. Every Thursday, we went out into the community and brought music to hospices, nursing homes, prisons, and inner-city youth centers. Credo’s dedication to community service has empowered me to make a difference in my hometown, Columbus, OH.
In high school, I joined a program called Chamber Music Connection wherein my string quartet and I received frequent opportunities to perform at community outreach events similar to Credo’s service days. One experience I will never forget is going to the local elementary school for children with special needs to expose them to classical music. Witnessing these students respond to music with energetic dancing and joyful laughter reminded me of how powerful the universal language of music can be. Leaving the school, I felt empowered to continue my calling to incorporate community service into every aspect of my musical development.
I want to further refine my skills as a cellist so that I can bring music to more people who might not otherwise get to experience it. I want to empower others through the notes, the rhythms, the colors, and the emotions created by my music. I want to change the world one concert at a time.”

Aaron Geldert | 20 years old | GPA: 4.0 | University of Miami – Music Engineering | Taiwanese/Caucasian

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

“Going ‘Against The Grain’ is the mindset of someone who connects new dots and creates new paths. It takes visionary thinking in order to apply diverse abilities in new ways. It requires learning through experience; getting hands on, adapting to changes, and persevering through failures. And most of all, it depends on embracing our innate human artistry and creativity.”

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

“A personal attribute I dearly value is my passion for learning. I am always trying to understand topics as fully as possible, giving me many wildly diverse interests: astronomy, computer programming, music education and much more. In that sense, I’ve become used to going ‘Against The Grain,’ having been dedicated to music in a STEM focused public high school, and now pursuing engineering in a collegiate music school. As part of going ‘Against The Grain,’ I highly value applying myself to my interests – such as training dogs, arranging music, and taking on video editing projects. Working on these applications can be social and fun, and crucially they allow me to find new paths to intertwine my passions. And with all of my ambitious projects that came to a frustrating end, I try to turn that failure into fuel to learn more, do more projects, and find more perseverance in myself. I believe that my studies in the arts and the sciences, while different, are very much complementary, and music engineering takes someone who can envision and create new pathways. I hope to combine my musical and technical skills to create a career that can contribute to the artistic community at large in a meaningful way. “

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