Throughout his undergraduate career, Sefa Aina ’97 demonstrated a unique commitment to honoring his heritage by advancing educational opportunity for Asian American and Pacific Islander groups across Southern California. This commitment not only opened multiple avenues of work for Aina after graduation, but it gave him the wherewithal and focus to affect change on a national level.
In September 2010, Aina was appointed to President Barack Obama’s President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. A position that gives him the opportunity to build on all of the educational advancements he created as an undergraduate. The commission is part of the executive order signed in 2009 that reestablished the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders under the United States Department of Education. Aina will work closely with all the agencies of the federal government to improve the quality of life and opportunities for the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community. As a member of the API community, Aina recognizes the importance of helping to “bridge the needs and issues of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community with the relevant federal agencies tasked with addressing those issues.”
“I feel extremely humbled and grateful for this honor,” said Aina of his appointment. “A lot of the work that I’ve been associated with, and have probably gotten too much credit for, is the work I’ve done with students.”
However, it seems that credit is given where credit is due. Aina demonstrated effective leadership by implementing change in Asian American and Pacific Islander student-tutoring programs at UCLA. As an undergraduate student, he established the Pacific Islander Education and Retention program, a student-run outreach project that utilizes parent resources and provides tutoring and peer advising to Pacific Islander youth in the Carson, Long Beach and Inglewood areas of Los Angeles. He is also a founding member of the National Pacific Islander Educators Network and Empowering Pacific Islander Communities, both groups that work to strengthen relationships between education and Pacific Islander communities.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history, Aina remained at UCLA as a counselor, organizational advisor and instructor at the Asian American Studies Center. In 2009, he was awarded a position as director of the Asian American Resource Center at Pomona College. It was at this job, where he applied for the position on Obama’s Advisory Commission. He was chosen from more than 25,000 applicants, for one of the 20 positions on the commission, demonstrating his one of a kind dedication.
Now, he is working towards his master’s degree in Asian American studies at UCLA, and hopes to use his position on the Advisory Commission to spread his successes in bridging the gap between educational opportunity and Pacific Islander communities in Southern California to communities across the nation.