Reflections on Asian Columbia Alumni Association's 20th Anniversary

Posted on behalf of Chester Lee '70SEAS, '74BUS

Ahead of the Asian Columbia Alumni Association's (ACAA) 20th Anniversary Gala on April 30, one of the founders looks back at the group's history.


As one of the founders of ACAA, 20 years ago, I would like to go back in time to the beginnings of ACAA, as a starting point to look at its organizational accomplishments and vision for the future, as well as affirm the value of remaining connected with Columbia and with each other as alumni.

I graduated from The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) in 1970 and the Columbia Business School in 1974. It should be noted that for 20 years, up to 1995, I hardly stepped foot on the Columbia campus even though I lived and worked in New York City after graduation. That’s because Columbia did not reach out to its broader alumni base during that entire time and I was never invited to any Columbia alumni activities on campus!

                                                              (Members at a Holiday Toy Drive Party in 2012)

In 1995, the University Office of Development and Alumni Affairs gave me a call out of the blue and asked if I would join nine other alumni to discuss if there was any interest in forming an Asian alumni organization, which would include alumni from all schools of the University. At that time this was a very intriguing idea as Columbia had done very little to reach out to Asian alumni as an interest group. Among that small group, most of whom I did not know at the time, were Conrad Lung, '72CC, who became an important benefactor of the university and Savio Tung '73SEAS, who was eventually elected as a university trustee for two terms.

We each chipped in $200 to cover initial organizational expenses and planned our first event at Asia Society, featuring a talk by Professor Andrew Nathan, which drew 300 people to the event. You can say the rest was history, as we demonstrated that there was indeed an important role for an organization such as ACAA to play in reconnecting Asian alumni to Columbia.

                                                                             (ACAA Dragon Boat Team)

Over the course of the last 20 years, many of ACAA's significant initiatives have become part of the fabric and mosaic of University life:

  • ACAA proactively embraced new technologies early on to help reconnect alumni.
    • Its first website was created in 1997 and it still has a large, active online presence today. 
    • In 1997, it set up an international video conference moderated by Professor Andrew Nathan between alumni in Hong Kong and New York to commemorate the handover of the Crown Colony of Hong Kong to China.

  • In 1997, ACAA lead the formation of the Columbia Club in Singapore. In 2001, it hosted a one-day seminar for alumni, "Columbia in Singapore: Educating Singapore's Talented Youth."

  • Its highly acclaimed Team Columbia Mentoring Program was emulated by many other start-up mentoring programs, including ones in the Center for Career Education (CCE) and the Columbia Alumni of Color Mentoring Program. As part of its mentoring efforts, ACAA co-hosted several "Dress for Success" professional skill building workshops with the Asian American Alliance, an umbrella organization of Asian student groups on campus.

  • In 1997, ACAA members attended the opening of the play, Shanghai Lil, produced by the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, which was directed by Tisa Chang '63BC, who received the Barnard Medal of Distinction in 1991 and is a pioneer in the development of the Asian American stage.

  • In 2003, Dana Y. Wu '91CC, '92SIPA, president of ACAA from 1997 to 1998, received the Asian Heritage Award for her outstanding services to the Asian community and Columbia at the annual Asian Alumni Reception.

  • In 2004, Professor Gary Okihiro from the Columbia Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity worked with his students to produce the documentary, History of Asians at Columbia, featuring prominent professors and alumni, as well as then-current ACAA members.

    (2013 Student Alumni Welcome Reception)

  • ACAA honored Mr. Z.Y. Fu at the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association Awards Dinner at Low Memorial Library Rotunda in 1999.

  • In 2004, ACAA organized five symposia featuring distinguished Columbia faculty based on the theme, Asian Americans: Opening Columbia to the World. This was part of "ACAA Celebrates Columbia 250" in commemorating the university's 250th anniversary.

  • Its black-tie galas held in Low Library from 2002 to 2006 honored distinguished alumni from Columbia College, SEAS, the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, and were highly successful in raising monies for the ACAA Scholarship Fund. The fund provided grants of $20,000 each for 19 ACAA Scholars.

  • Its major social events have become annual activities on the Columbia calendar:
    • The Welcome Back Reception and Asian Graduation Reception are always well attended by students and alumni. Over the years, prominent alumni speakers included: Alumni Medalist and Alexander Hamilton Award and John Jay Award-winner Conrad Lung '72CC, Tung, an Alumni Medalist, former University Trustee, and Outstanding Community Service Award-winner, Alumni Medalist Mozelle Thompson '76CC, '79SIPA, '81LAW, and Sree Sreenivasan '93JRN, chief digital officer, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

                                                                            (Sree Sreenivasan)

    • The ACAA Lunar New Year Banquet has been a huge celebratory event for the last 14 years in New York, London, and other major Asian cities.
    • The annual ACAA Picnic now includes participants from all the Ivy schools.
    • ACAA's exciting Dragon Boat Team competes annually and has placed first among its peers during the past two years.
    • The first annual Diwali Festival Dinner this year drew many alumni and was a lot of fun.

                                                                       (2013 Lunar Banquet)


ACAA is holding a cocktail reception and black-tie gala in Low Library on April 30 to celebrate its rich history and to honor the leaders who helped build ACAA over the past 20 years. The evening will be hosted by Sreenivasan. We will be honoring and celebrating some of our members, including Victor Cha, '83CC, '88SIPA, '92GSAS, '93SIPA, '94GSAS, who will receive the Alumni Achievement Award, Professor C. K. Chu, who will receive the Columbia Impact Award, and many others. 

We hope you can join us to celebrate ACAA's 20th Anniversary. It will be a great and fun opportunity to connect and network with the entire Columbia community!

-Chester Lee '70SEAS, '74BUS

Learn more about ACAA here.