Editor’s Note — This Q&A is part of a weekly conversation series that is celebrating Asian and Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage 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. Learn more about APIDA Heritage Month coverage in Nebraska Today.
This week, we’re talking with John Tessalee, a 2014 College of Business alumnus and a current program coordinator in the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services. He is from Bangkok, Thailand. Through his role in the Gaughan Center, Tessalee advises and encourages students on how they can be successful in college and beyond.
As a Nebraska alum, can you talk a little about your experience during undergrad and why you wanted to work here post-grad?
I am a summer of 2014 UNL alum. I specifically graduated out of the College of Business where I studied Marketing and Economics. I grew up in Bangkok, Thailand, so I felt most at home among a lot of the international students here. I really got to know the international students through the Nebraska University Malaysian Students Association (NUMSA) where I was involved with a few of their Malaysian Night cultural events. It’s come full circle as I now have the privilege to help co-advise the NUMSA RSO among other international and cultural-based RSOs. When I graduated, I didn’t necessarily think that I wanted to work here but I certainly was not opposed to it. I’d always enjoyed my time in college, (minus the exams), so I’ve been thrilled to have been working here for the past few years.
Talk a little bit about your position in OASIS.
I normally describe what I do here in the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services by saying that I advise and encourage students who come from first-generation, low income, minoritized, and international backgrounds on how to be successful at UNL and beyond. I do that through one-on-one advising meetings and by teaching a couple of OASIS’s intro-to-college seminar classes. I also oversee our Academic Success receptions where we celebrate students who have received a 3.5 GPA or above in the previous semester as well as the 4.0 Academic Success receptions in the spring for first-year students who earned a 4.0 in their first semester here.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I’ve always thought that the people make or break the job. I’ve been fortunate to have great relationships with the folks here in the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center (JGMC). My absolute favorite thing is to get to interact with the students who come into our OASIS Lounge. I’ve recently said that I know the pandemic is over because of the high decibel levels outside of my office where students are hooting and hollering at each other and having a party every afternoon. The previously dead gathering space has been coming back alive again and it’s been such a joy to watch.
Is there anything you’re particularly proud of from your time in OASIS?
I’m a people person and so something I’ve been particularly proud of has been the relationships I’ve made while I’ve been here. I’ve worked especially hard on building those connections and relationships to students and coworkers alike. A relational landmark of mine was to be invited to celebrate a student’s graduation party with their family. (They had the best street tacos I’ve ever had!) I look forward to continuing to grow relationships like that in the future.
Is there anything you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
My main goal right now is to pay for my children’s college education. My boys are 3 and 5 right now so I do have a minute to save up before that first tuition bill comes in, but I want to set them up to be able to afford a solid college education (selfishly here at UNL so I can be close to them). I’m sure it’s every father’s goal to have their children be more than they are, and I’m no different. I’ll feel accomplished in my lifetime if I can see them come to a place where they have surpassed me.
What or who inspires you?
My wife, Brittany, is my biggest inspiration. First off, she has to put up with me! But on top of that, she has put her accounting career on pause to pursue a full-time job working at home with our two rambunctious little boys. We’ve also started homeschooling our children, (and by we, I mean she), and after these couple of years, many of us know just how hard it is to do school from home. Despite it all, she still is my most enthusiastic cheerleader in life, my partner in crime, and someone who still laughs at all my bad dad jokes.
What is your advice to others looking to make an impact, on or off-campus?
A silly little saying that I live by is, “If you keep your eyes open, you will see things”. If you keep your eyes open, you will see opportunities for yourself to further your career, or to position yourself for success, or to grow yourself in some way. If you keep your eyes open, you will see people’s needs and you can then try meet those needs. If you keep your eyes open, you will see danger ahead and be able to avoid it. If you keep your eyes open, you will see beauty in the world and be able to appreciate and share it. I think we as a society can end up just sitting on a couch, staring at a screen and miss actually seeing and experiencing so many other great things in life. So, keep your eyes open and when you see something, act!