Hé building out welcoming community for alumni

· 10 min read

Hé building out welcoming community for alumni

Nathan laughs for a photo on the stairs of the Wick Alumni Center
Nathan Hé laughs for a photo on the stairs of the Wick Alumni Center

Editor’s Note — This Q&A is part of a weekly conversation series that is celebrating Pride Month on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Medium page. The series will feature Huskers who are making impacts on campus and look to maintain that momentum in future careers.

This week, meet Nathan Hé. As an undergrad from Chongqing, China, Hé got involved across campus — from joining RSOs to finding opportunities for hands-on learning. Now as the assistant director of alumni engagement for the Nebraska Alumni Association, he’s creating more opportunities for alumni and students to engage with each other and find communities that are important for them.

Talk about your time as an undergrad at Nebraska.

I had an eventful but colorful undergrad experience, which is quite on-brand, to be honest. I’m a 2018 grad who double-majored in marketing and advertising and public relations. I came to Nebraska because of its generous international student scholarships and strong reputation in the accounting program. Yes, I was an accounting student for one year until I realized my personality and my interest in connecting with people helped me excel in the marketing program, so I made the switch. I added the ADPR major later in my junior year by the sweetest accident. I was not able to take some advanced business classes one semester, so I decided to join my friends in CoJMC for a few classes and the inclusiveness, caring and sincerity of those professors completely mesmerized me. Therefore, by the end of that semester, I decided to add ADPR as my second major.

When I first came to UNL, I was initially only involved with the Chinese Student and Scholar Association RSO as most international students do. But when the second semester arrived, on March 8, 2014, things changed. On that day, I was assaulted on campus at 16th and S Street at 11:20 p.m. while walking back to University Suites. I was knocked to the ground unconscious, woke up, and slunk back to the dorm by myself. After that tragic night, I spent the remainder of my freshman year shutting myself down and staying away from all people, contemplating transferring from Nebraska. But my reality was that I couldn’t afford to move elsewhere. So, I stayed. This time, with my therapist and counselor’s recommendation, I decided to put myself out again and work as a cashier at the university convenience store, which gave me plenty of opportunities to chat with strangers daily. I then met my new Courtyard Suites resident assistants — Sydney and Mark, who forever changed my college life. They listened to my whole journey, introduced me to a bigger campus community, and shared abundant opportunities with me.

With their introductions, I was able to join RHA and serve as a senator, then later became a resident assistant at Eastside Suits (the first openly queer international RA on a non-international student floor) and was eventually inducted into National Residence Hall Honorary. I also worked as a conference assistant for two summers in a row. Then, I became the first queer international member at Jacht, which was such a joy! This experience eventually led me to join the National Student Advertising Competition team as the first queer international member, then as the team research lead in the second year. With my incredibly talented teammates, we were able to take home the district second place as well as a few ADDYs (American Advertising Awards).

Because I went through my journey as an international student myself, I noticed the challenges a lot of international freshmen and IEP students were facing, including how to prepare to be college students in America, where AAPI communities are on and off campus, etc. So I invited some of my Chinese friends from the College of Arts and Sciences to work together and created a WeChat applet that auto-answers commonly asked questions among international students.

I had a lot of phenomenal experiences on campus, but the one that comes to my mind most often is the monthly cultural cuisine night I hosted as a resident assistant. Each month, I invited my residents to either order takeouts from or join me at a new Asian restaurant. It was, honestly, so great seeing those domestic students trying out new food, openly discussing cultural experiences they had and creating friendships together.

You graduated from Nebraska as an international student. What made you want to stay in Nebraska and give back to your alma mater through your work at NAA?

Honestly, it’s the people that made me stay. Yes, I had bad experiences, but I also met so many thoughtful, inclusive and passionate individuals who now I can proudly call friends. They are the ones who guided me to have a successful Nebraska journey.

Throughout my college years and career, I always immerse myself in volunteering and activist work. As a queer BIPOC first-gen international college graduate myself, I don’t want anyone else to go through the same struggles I went through, so if there is any help that I can provide them with, I am interested, especially on LGBTQA+, immigrant and racial equity issues.

This is why I helped refugee resettlement and international student job placement and served as director of communications for a local nonprofit, Girls Code Lincoln, where we provide free coding education and leadership lessons to fourth- through ninth-grade girls and nonbinary children. Then, with the increasing hate the AAPI community received during the COVID pandemic and the cruel Atlanta mass shooting in 2021, I decided to put myself out there even more by helping lead the Stop Asian Hate rally and calling out companies and organizations. Later, I accepted an invitation from my dear friend, Professor Jemalyn Griffin, to volunteer as a Professional In Residence for the students in the CoJMC on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging practices in marketing and the digital world.

With the activities and events I participated in above, I was invited to an Alumni of Color Townhall from the University and Nebraska Alumni Association, where I met so many brilliant and supportive alumni of color who share similar experiences and passion as I do. The DEIB plans and practices that were introduced at the town hall spoke to me, so I decided to make another huge career change and joined higher education, where I can be supported while supporting my beloved communities.

What is your current role at the Nebraska Alumni Association and what does it entail? Any favorite parts of your role?

I am the assistant director of alumni engagement at the Nebraska Alumni Association. My work focuses on DEIB alumni connection, engagement and empowerment. I launch, maintain and sustain diverse alumni networks, including the Alumni of Color Network, Pride Alumni Network, and First Generation Alumni Network, and I plan to launch an International Alumni Network in the near future. If you are interested in learning more, you should sign up for our email lists and join us in future events, too. I also help with internal and external DEIB development and support with my team and I coordinate commencement volunteering support.

I love working with my DEIB alumni networks and their advisory council members. They are groups of truly driven, compassionate and inclusive leaders who live in DEI practices and believe in the importance of intersectionality. They not only care about the alumni community but also want to help our communities to connect with the university, and they also help me host a lot of cool events where we celebrate DEI excellence, including Multicultural Homecoming, Pride Festival, Pride in the Workplace, Lavender Graduation, NCPA Graduation, International Graduation and more.

My work in this role and my community engagements have been recognized by the Lincoln Young Professional Network and honored me as the Diversity and Inclusion Excellence Award recipient.

Talk about launching the university’s Pride Alumni Network.

We connect LGBTQA+ alumni and friends with the university, the Nebraska Alumni Association and each other. Our goal is to promote alumni engagement, inclusivity, diversity and belonging by creating networking opportunities and generating support for alumni and current and future students.

The Network seeks to create opportunities to provide support for students such as:

  • Alumni guidance for students, increased recruitment and retention of LGBTQA+ students, and student-to-alumni mentorship

  • Building a community for LBGTQA+ alumni

  • Networking, career development, and professional advancement, alumni-to-alumni mentoring and support for LGBTQA+ alumni to thrive personally and professionally

  • Increased communication

  • Expanded awareness of the group to grow membership and involvement

You recently won the 2023 Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Contributions to the LGBT Community. Can you speak to your passion for creating a more welcoming Husker family?

To me, an inclusive, safe and welcoming environment for LGBTQA+ individuals is very personal and an important college student right. No matter where you come from, you deserve to feel welcomed and supported while receiving a high-quality education. This welcome feeling should not just come from one or two people, but from the overall community, because again, for us queer individuals, the community might be our second or for some the first home, so why can’t they feel comfortable and loved in their own home? We are happy to see the increasing number of LGBTQA+ students coming out and being more active on and off campus to enjoy their lives because of the slowly improving social environment, but we also saw as of May this year, more than 500 anti-LGBTQA+ bills across more than 40 states have been introduced. The uncertainty and spiking sense of danger has clouded the shine over our queer joy and progress. That’s why there needs more of us to be more vocal, more allies to champion us, and more actions to protect our vulnerable yet unbelievably strong LGBTQA+ community.

I adore Lincoln Star City Pride Month festival. It is always gay, and yes, puns are intended. It’s a collaboration across multiple campus departments, where you see a lot of staff, faculty, students and senior leadership put serious efforts and attention into working as one unit to champion the LGBTQA+ community. This year at Lincoln Star City Pride, we had Dr. Chatters deejaying for us with athletes joining us in the parade and celebrating with nearly 4,000 LGBTQA+ community members and allies. It’s also the first time that my fabulous Pride Alumni Network and Advisory Council debuted at a pride festival.

Yes, Pride Month is a time for celebration, it is also a time to honor the strength and achievements of the LGBTQ+ community, contemplate the advancements that have been accomplished, and explore new approaches to effectively tackle the remaining challenges in attaining tangible and enduring equality. Pride is never just June, it’s every month and every day.

What is your advice to others looking to make an impact on campus?

Start small, and start with what’s related to you first, my friends. You can dream big, but you don’t need to dive in that hard. All big impacts started with small changes. If you start with something small and something you are already familiar with, it is more likely you will have a smoother progress and your experience will encourage you to try more instead of burning yourself out so quickly with hard-to-achieve missions. No matter what you choose to do, please remember to take care of yourself first; know your boundaries and limits; and reach out for help or collaboration. You are already a superstar when you have the heart to help, you deserve the support, too.

What or who inspires you?

My Mom for sure. My parents lived apart when I was a kid, so she had to take care of this little chaos (young Nathan, of course) while working as a preschool educator and studying for her CPA exam at night on her own, so she could make a career change to provide more financial stability to the family. Yes, she made it, like she always does. My mom loves me for who I am, but she always tells me, “You’ve got to learn how to protect yourself, not just physically, but mentally and more importantly, your heart. Don’t lose yourself, and fight for what you want.” I mean, how can I not, when I have such an inspiring role model in my life?

Is there anything you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?

I want to continue my education, pursue a doctorate and become the first queer Asian Officer of Diversity and Inclusion in a Big Ten university. But honestly, I hope I am not going to be the first one when I’m ready, because I still need time to grow, but there are abundant queer AAPI talents out there ready to put their knowledge and passion to work. We will see.

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