Director uses past to help students

By Jo Robinson - Staff Reporters

Highline's AANAPISI program is helping a diverse group of students have success in college, its director said recently. 

Ekkarath Sisavatdy the AANAPISI [Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander Serving Institution] director said he is very familiar with the struggles faced by the students enrolled in the program. He said he went through some of the same struggles himself.

"Oftentimes the system doesn't fit our population," said Sisavatdy.

"And oftentimes the problems associated with being a college student, are really just stemming from not knowing where to get support when you come here," he said.

Sisavatdy said his experiences in the beginning of college were similar. He was born in Laos and came here as a refugee, and although both of his parents were college educated, his father was a freedom fighter and was never home. 

"That put a strain on our family, my mother often had to feed all eight of her children alone," said Sisavatdy.

"That mixed with coming to a new place and a new system that, although my parents were college educated, they didn't understand," Sisavatdy said.

Currently 86 percent of the students in the AANAPISI program are first-generation students. 

Sisavatdy said similar to his college experience, students in the program struggle with understanding the system and not knowing who to ask for help.

"A big challenge faced by our community of people would be most of us being a first-generation," said Sisavatdy.

"Because of that some students come into college with pride from already knowing their purpose and can ask any question they need to know without fear or shame. This is a good thing, but unfortunately most students feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask these same types of questions," said Sisavatdy.

He said this is where the program comes in.

"We see this a lot in our students and work hard to show them to speak to their professors and advisers. A lot of times students need us in the capacity of staff first then us as professionals second, not the other way around," said Sisavatdy.

He said his goal as a staff member is to support students holistically, to meet their needs in a timely manner, and to realize that often times he will  be needed more in the role of center contact for the students than as a director to them.

Seven AANAPISI participants will be graduating from Highline this year, and there will be two participants awarded the APIASF national scholarship this Friday in Building 8, Mt. Constance at 1 p.m.

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