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The 2024 staff and committee of the Mayo Clinic Office for Education Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
2024 group photo of Mayo Clinic Office for Education Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion staff and committee

May 30, 2024

By Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science staff

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month during the month of May reflects on the important role that Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders have played in our shared history. The Office for Education Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Mayo Clinic shines a light on Mayo Clinic leaders who share that heritage.

The theme of this year's AAPI Heritage Month is Advancing Leaders Through Innovation. Mayo Clinic celebrates the diverse voices of its many AAPI leaders across the institution.

Vijay Shah, M.D.Vijay Shah, M.D.

Vijay Shah, M.D., assumed the role of Kinney Executive Dean of Research last year. He holds the position of Chair of Internal Medicine and serves as the Carol M. Gatton Professor of Digestive Diseases Research. With joint appointments in gastroenterology and hepatology, as well as physiology and biomedical engineering, Dr. Shah brings a wealth of expertise to his role.

Dr. Shah's parents came as first-generation immigrants from India when he was only one year of age. His upbringing included a number of classical immigrant storylines.

"What I took from it," Dr. Shah reflects, "was the recognition of how big of a risk my parents took to move halfway around the world, with a major focus being a better education and life for me and my sister. My dad used to say that any money invested in education is a good investment and that led to many of my core values of family, learning, and love. I also recognized how important it was to take risks. I often say — the biggest risk you can take is not to take the risk."

Dr. Shah notes that while the greatest population growth in the world is occurring in Southeast Asia, Asian American Pacific Islanders represent a disproportionately small amount of leadership positions, especially higher-level leadership.

"I think that our multicultural background puts us in an ideal position to be national and global leaders, especially in the healthcare industry," he explains. "Remember that many innovations have occurred in our Southeast Asian culture that we take for granted. For example, lunch delivery at work (tiffins) is longstanding in Asia, and this is basically the model of Uber Eats, which we recognize as a Western innovation."

To future AAPI leaders, he says "Be proud of your heritage and recognize it as a strength. We have an opportunity and even an obligation to lead, given the percentage of the world population that we represent and our growing influence in the United States."

Nicky TommavongsaNicky Tommavongsa

Nicky Tommavongsa is a dedicated administrative assistant at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science Alumni Center. She shares her inspiring journey and insights.

Nicky's parents arrived in the United States in 1987. The history of Laos during the 1980's was marked by significant challenges and changes. The country faced internal and external pressures, including border disputes with neighboring Thailand and the complex aftermath of the Vietnam War, which included the presence of Vietnamese troops in Laotian territory. These geopolitical tensions were compounded by internal issues such as governance struggles and the pursuit of national stability and development. Amidst this backdrop, many Laotians sought new beginnings, including her family, who chose to emigrate to the United States in search of a life free from the fears associated with the political regime of the time. Their journey reflects the resilience and hope of many who sought to build a peaceful and prosperous future for themselves and their descendants.

"My greatest achievement in my professional life would be joining the Mayo Clinic family 14 years ago," she shares. "My professional journey is a remarkable testament to the diverse career opportunities and the adaptability within Mayo Clinic to accommodate different life stages. Starting in food service, I navigated various roles, each with its unique challenges and learning experiences. My transition to a lead lab assistant demonstrated my ability to grow and take on more responsibility. Joining the patient appointment service specialist team in dermatology, and becoming an assistant supervisor showed my versatility and commitment to patient care. Most importantly, I then found a role in harmony with my work-life balance after becoming a parent."

Jenny HoJenny Ho

Jenny Ho is an operations administrator at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Jenny's pivotal role in supporting various departments, including Neurosurgery, Ophthalmology, and the Offices of Health Equity and Inclusion, and Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity, shines brightly.

Of her heritage, Jenny shares, "I am Chinese. My parents immigrated here from Taiwan, and my sister and I were born in Illinois. We later moved to California, where I grew up."

Jenny sees healthcare as a career choice for many Asian Pacific Islanders. "Throughout Mayo Clinic," she reflects, "we see Asian Pacific Islanders making a difference throughout the organization. We are well-represented in our clinical teams, including physicians, advanced practice providers, nurses, and allied health staff. We also have many Asian Pacific Islanders making key contributions in our shared service areas. I know we have been instrumental in many projects and initiatives here, sometimes working in the background and other times leading the way. Innovation is needed to ensure we are driving results, developing new solutions, and pushing the boundaries of what we think is possible."

Jenny is proud of the relationships she developed over the course of her career. "When people say that the greatest asset of any organization is its people, they’re right," she explains. "None of us exists in a vacuum, and collaboration and teamwork are at the foundation of Mayo’s success. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to partner with many colleagues at Mayo Clinic over the years, and that together we’ve been able to advance our mission and vision to ensure that our patients’ needs come first."

Lauren Seu

Lauren Seu participated in our Native American Pathway Program in the summer of 2023. She shares her thoughts and experiences during AAPI Heritage Month.

"My cultural heritage is Japanese, Chinese, and Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian)," Lauren shares. "The stories of both sides of my family are deeply woven into Hawai’i’s history. I grew up in a blend of cultures and traditions, which have shaped many of my core values and influenced my personal and professional choices throughout my life. I am determined to use my education to eventually serve my home community."

She decided to participate in Mayo Clinic's Native American Pathway Program in order to prepare for her career in medicine through an indigeneous lens. She felt fortunate to share space with other indigenous students, mentors, and elders from all over the country. The program not only prepared her for her career and the medical school application process, but also increased her knowledge of community needs and values.

About the Office for Education Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

At Mayo Clinic, the Office for Education Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion recognizes that the contributions of every individual is essential to success in patient care, education, and research. The office strives to maintain and further develop a learning environment in which individual differences are valued, allowing all staff and students to achieve their fullest potential.

To read and learn more about recognizing AAPI Heritage Month at Mayo Clinic, visit the Office for Education Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’s social media channels — FacebookLinkedIn, and Instagram.