Dr. Minh-hoa Ta is currently the Dean of the City College of San Francisco (CCSF), Chinatown North Beach Center. She joined CCSF in 1989, as a counseling faculty member of the CCSF Extended Opportunity Program and Services (EOPS) Department and Asian American Studies Department and as Co-Founder/Director of the Asian Pacific American Student Success (APASS) Retention Center. Prior to her current position, she worked with youth and immigrant education development in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years. She has also held positions as the Principal Investigator for the first U. S. Department of Education Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions (ANNAPISI) Grant, as the Dean of Instruction and as the Dean of the School of ESL, International Student and Transitional Studies. Minh-hoa taught at San Francisco State University (SFSU) in the college of Ethnic Studies for 16 years. She was the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Vietnamese American Studies Center at SFSU. She currently serves as the Chair of the University of California at San Francisco’s Vietnamese Community Health Promotion Project and as the honorable Principal of Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine USA campus.
Minh-hoa earned her Doctorate in International and Multi-Cultural Education from the University of San Francisco (USF). She holds an MSW in Social Work Education from San Francisco State University, a B.A. in Social Welfare and a B.A. in Asian American Studies from the University of California at Berkeley (UCB). E-mail address: email@example.com
September interviewer: Terry Doyle with a lot of assistance from Geeta Aneja
- Could you tell us about your educational and professional background and what led you to the field of education, to studying for a doctoral degree at University of San Francisco, and to becoming a dean at City College of San Francisco?
My first major at the University of California, Berkeley was engineering. I was strong in math and needed to get into a practical profession to assist my family financially. My goal was to get a degree as soon as possible in order to get a job and get out of poverty. When I realized Chemistry was not my cup of tea, I accidently tumbled into Social Welfare. At the same time, I also discovered the field of Asian American Studies and ended up completing two BA degrees in both Asian American Studies and Social Welfare and graduated in 4 years. It was not easy to get financial support at UCB. I thought Financial Aid would pay for my education only for 4 years. I was working two jobs while attending college and during my senior year, I volunteered at a non-profit agency (Asians For Job Opportunity) in Berkeley. A semester later, I was offered a PT position as a Social Worker Aide. The Director and my supervisor at the time (Dr. Tony Leong and Martin Jew), recommended that I should continue my master program at SFSU. They assisted me with the application process and I was very lucky to be accepted into the School of Social Work Education.
I worked full time during the day and attended SFSU in the evening. My original concentration was community mental health. During the third year of the master program, I did my internship at a Geriatric and Psychiatric Center in the Mission District of San Francisco for one year. My advisor, Dr. Susan Sung, told me about a job with the Extended Opportunity Program and Services (EOPS) at CCSF. I went for an interview with Mr. Bill Chin, the EOPS Director. He offered me my first PT outreach recruitment job with the college. A year later, I applied for a FT counseling position and so my professional journey at CCSF started in 1990. While I was the counselor at EOPS, I was asked to teach a class in the Asian American Studies Department. In 1994, I was recruited to teach a class at SFSU by my former professor at UCB, Chung Hoang Chuong and Dr. Angie Fa. In 1996, I became a co-founder of the Vietnamese American Studies Center at SFSU and developed a new course in Vietnamese American Identity. The Department Chair at SFSU wanted me to be a full-time faculty at SFSU and encouraged me to apply to a Doctoral program. I decided to attend the University of San Francisco (USF) because it is close to my work and my parents. SFSU provided me with a Forgivable Loan, which required that I would teach at the University for 10 years to pay off the loan. I worked full-time at CCSF and part time at SFSU to pay for the expensive tuition. I planned to achieve my degree in 7 years. Fortunately, I got the news that I would be granted a Title V Scholarship during the third year of my study. My goal was to complete all the units and the dissertation within the following 12 months. Do not ask me how I did it. I am very grateful to the support of Dr. Rosita Galang and Dr. Aida Joshi.
Upon the completion of my doctoral program at USF in 2000, I took a leave of absence at CCSF to work full-time at SFSU for one year. I decided to return to CCSF/EOPS because I truly missed the work at CCSF. I was the only trilingual Vietnamese/Chinese speaking counselor in EOPS and at CCSF at the time and had a very high caseload. Seeing my students move on to the university or graduate was always rewarding. I had never thought about getting into administration before Dean Frank Chong and Dean Nick Chang and a few Asian American faculty solicited my involvement in the debunking of the Asian American model minority myth project in 1994. It took the group 10 years to gather information and data and to interview focus groups among the diverse Asian Pacific American (API) student population. The data showed that API student population at CCSF has the highest academic probation rate every semester. The model minority image has marginalized the needs of these students. The group appealed to the Board and the Chancellor in 2002 to create a retention center to address API student academic progress. In the summer of 2004, the group recommend that the Chancellor appoint me as the interim Director for the Asian Pacific American Student Success Center. I applied for the job in the fall of 2004 and began my administrative career. In 2010, I applied to become the Dean of Instruction due to administrative reorganization under the leadership of Dr. Griffin. I became the Dean of Chinatown North Beach Center/School of International Education and ESL in 2012 due to another reorganization. In the fall of 2012, CCSF was put on Show Cause by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC). The accreditation of CCSF was in jeopardy with the departure of top leaders; CCSF was required to accept Restoration Status in 2014 and has two years to fully meet ACCJC’s standards to prevent closure in 2017. The new interim Chancellor reorganized the administration again and I had to apply to be either the Dean of the Chinatown North Beach or the Dean of the School of ESL and International Education in the fall of 2013. I became the finalist for both positions but decided to pick CHNB because the job would allow me to keep in touch with the community and the students and because I was also involved in the struggle of getting our new Chinatown campus completed. Perhaps you are tired by now of reading about me, so I will stop here. Challenges just happen to fall upon my shoulders every few years.
- Could you tell us about your current position at City College of San Francisco and what it involves?
I am currently the Dean of the Chinatown North Beach Center/Campus. Beside managing the Center’s budget, enrollment, operation, and supervision, I work closely with various community agencies in program development, outreach, fund raising and other things as needed such as attending endless meetings and events.
- You have a master degree in Social Work Education and a Ed.D. in International and Multicultural Education. How did you develop your management and leadership skills? What advice would you give to faculty members and anyone reading this interview who wish to be promoted to leadership positions?
I have been very lucky to have met so many strong leaders such as Nick Chang, Dr. Frank Chong, Dr. Griffin, Dean Terry Hall, Interim Vice Chancellor Joanne Low, Dr. Marlon Hom at SFSU, community leaders such as Ling Chi Wang, Henry Der, young new leaders such as Eric Mar and Vincent Pan and faculty members such as Mo-Shuet Tam, Kathleen White, Dr. Fred Chavaria, and of course my MOTHER. She was never an administrator but I learned from her kindness and the will to survive and sacrifice. I believe the best learning tool is to learn to observe, to be willing to be flexible, to be able to adopt different leadership styles under different circumstances, and to have integrity and respect for others. The experiences and events in my life have taught me to be humble. My advice to new faculty members would be “Don’t let the title go over your head”. Beyond your work place, you are an ordinary individual like everyone else! At the end of the day, when I get home, I still need to clean and cook. I am still the youngest sibling to all my older siblings and have minimum decision making power. Do not burn your bridges. The educational environment is very unpredictable and political.
- Your dissertation entitled Twice a Minority: The Migration Experience of the Ethnic Chinese in Vietnam and in the U.S. is about people of Chinese ethnicity in Vietnam and Chinese ethnic communities in Vietnam. Could you briefly summarize the findings of this research particularly in relation to how they might inform ESL teachers and readers of this blog? (When I was teaching Vietnamese refugees beginning in 1977, I gradually realized that many of my Vietnamese students were actually Chinese, or had one parent who is Chinese. I wish I could have read your dissertation long ago!! During my whole teaching career of 35 years, I had many Vietnamese students, many of whom were Chinese, so this is why your dissertation is so interesting and meaningful to me!)
For most of the Ethnic Chinese people who grew up in Vietnam before 1975, being Chinese was a given. Chinese people in Vietnam were identified as Vietnamese with Chinese roots in government documentation. (“Nguoi Viet goc Hoa” in Vietnamese). They were marginalized, and discriminated for years. Since the Ethnic Chinese people were mostly excluded from holding political power, they mostly learned to use their wealth to buy protection and power. The formation of an ethnic enclave was also necessary for survival, and it strengthened their ethnic identity. The anti-Chinese campaign carried out by the Socialist Government between 1977 and 1985 was a discriminatory policy toward a particular ethnic group in Vietnam. It also resulted in the exodus of more than 2 million ethnic Chinese people from Vietnam and thousands lost their lives and families forever. My family experienced these tragedies and the horrific memories are forever remained in my soul. The wide-spread ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe and the Middle East in the recent years would be a good example of why one should separate the experiences of Vietnamese people from those of ethnic Chinese Vietnamese.
- In your research you utilized a research methodology called participatory research which was developed or at least inspired by Paulo Freire. I also used this research methodology for my dissertation research in the University of San Francisco. (This is another reason why your dissertation is interesting to me.) Could you explain to readers why you chose this research methodology and how it was valuable to help you understand your participants and their points of views more deeply? One purpose of this research methodology is that it’s goal is political transformation of the participants. How successful were you in this regard? (To tell the truth, in my dissertation I think that I failed in this respect. At least, I couldn’t write about how my participants were affected politically.)
I learned from literature and many scholars that history is often time written from the point of view of an elite class because of obvious reasons which we all know. Participatory research provides a voice to the ordinary people. Wealth and power are mostly controlled by 5% of the world’s population. However, the social well-being of human society is supported by 95% of ordinary folks. Participatory research methodology allowed me to understand that each of us is a creator and an active participant of human history. The ordinary person is as important and should receive as much respect as a person who has name recognition and power. The participants in my research showed me that in their limited world of wealth and fame, they were at once nurturers and providers to their families and the society. If given a chance to receive education in a well cared for environment, they would be very successful socially and financially.
- Can you think of any particularly memorable stories that your participants told you that you would like to share with the readers of this blog?
One of the female participant belongs to an economically disadvantaged class. Her story stuck in my mind the most. She did not have a chance to receive an education and grew up really poor. Married to a man who was addicted to gambling and being an uneducated and poor woman in an underdeveloped nation, she could not seek a divorce. She raised all her children doing tough labor work but when she shared her story, she never blamed her parents or anyone else. She strongly believed that it was her fate. Seeing how she is being well cared for by her children now in the US, I feel that all her hard work has paid off.
- In the literature of NNEST (non-native English speaking teachers) issues, one strand of research has been the intersection of race, nationality, and English language teaching. (See additional resources below) As an immigrant from Vietnam working in the US, have you ever experienced prejudice based on your race or national origin, especially in the professional world? If so, how did you overcome this prejudice?
Prejudice is unavoidable for a minority and a second language learner, especially if one speaks with an Asian accent. I really did not have the time to invest in learning and speaking English perfectly when I was in high school or college because my goal was to get a job. The best way to overcome prejudice for me is to confront my own prejudice and learn to be assertive. It is never easy to deal with prejudice.
- In your personal and professional journey, have you had mentors who have played a significant role in your professional development as a confident professional? If so, what about their mentorship was particularly memorable or helpful?
I do not have a strong mentor due to my busy schedule. However, I have a few individuals who I call and ask for advice when I need emotional support as well as professional wisdom and advice.
- To what extent do you believe NNES administrators and NNESTs should value or focus on attaining native-like competence?
We must be willing to be flexible and understand the system and the work culture in order to be accepted.
- What inspires you on a difficult day?
I worked with wonderful staff and students. My siblings and my family always inspire me to work harder. My religious belief also helps me to accept reality and let go of things. I also spend time meditating or cooking.
- What strategies have you employed to promote your strengths as an NNES administrator? Do you have some practical suggestions for other NNES administrators and NNESTs who may feel as though their ‘difference’ is often perceived as a liability rather than an asset?
I believe at the end of the day, you must feel proud of your own ethnic heritage, culture and your physical being. I am an Asian American who is proud of being both Asian and American. My present represents the richness of this nation. Also, being proficient in more than one language is always a plus for one professional career.