'Being an immigrant is never easy'
“Their stories parallel the story of my family in amazing ways. My parents were more fortunate than many people. Maybe they were better prepared, but being an immigrant is never easy.”
For Jason L. Guo, a second-year graduate student in bioengineering (BioE) at Rice University, the lives of immigrants new to the United States are more than newspaper abstractions. Twenty years ago, when he was three years old, his parents left Guangzhou in southeastern China to study at the University of Akron in Ohio.
His father, a polymer engineer, and mother, a chemical engineer, resettled near the Twin Cities in Minnesota, where Guo grew up. “I’m an American, but I know what it’s like to get settled in a new country. I know the difficulties my parents faced, how hard they worked,” said Guo, whose doctoral adviser is Antonios Mikos, Louis Calder Professor of BioE, and of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
Along with his research in tissue engineering, Guo is active in Houston’s Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community through the Organization of Community Advocates-Greater Houston (OCA). Another second-year grad student in bioengineering, Kevin Li, got him involved.
Since his arrival at Rice in August 2015, Guo has organized monthly “Tea Talks,” community discussions of issues facing Asians and Asian Americans newly settled in Houston. The guest speaker at a recent program, “Disparities in K-12 education for AAPI students,” was Anne Sung, the chief strategy officer with Project GRAD Houston.
“The Tea Talks are designed to bring community members, just regular people, together with activists and professionals and other experts. They get a chance to ask questions and brainstorm solutions directly, face to face,” Guo said.
Harris County’s Asian population increased by 76 percent between 1990 and 2000, and by 45 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the Houston Area Asian Survey, an extension of the Kinder Institute of Urban Research’s annual Houston Area Survey.
Guo is working with representatives from the Houston Independent School District and other districts in the region to set up a tutoring/mentoring program for financially underprivileged AAPI students.
“I think of it as kind of a Big Sister/Big Brother thing. The school districts have been very enthusiastic about our ideas, and we expect this to be up and running by the end of the school year,” said Guo, who estimates he spends at least three or four hours a week doing community service.
Guo earned a B.S. in biomedical engineering from Northwestern University in 2014, which he followed with a position as a post-baccalaureate researcher in the same field at the University of Minnesota. He expects to earn his Ph.D. by 2020, and hopes to land a job in academia.
“I’ve discovered that I really enjoy teaching. Basically, I really enjoy working with people and trying to help them,” he said.