Q&A: Ryan Liu. From PCC to Yale, Oxford & Back Again

8 mins read
A person standing in front of a building
Ryan Liu. Photo: Campaign
This entry is part 3 of 22 in the series 2024 Primary Election Candidates

Ryan Liu is an attorney with Cooley LLP, a graduate of Yale Law School and a candidate for Pasadena City College District 6 Trustee. District 6 includes portions of Arcadia, El Monte, Rosemead, San Gabriel and Temple City.

Q– We’re finding so many news outlets don’t have reporters for candidate interviews. Do you have any thoughts about how saving local news might be accomplished through PCC student journalism or KPCC radio and PCC-TV?

A– I know you pointed out in one of your questions the landscape for local news outlets and how strapped they are now for resources. I agree with you. It’s really important to be able to hear directly from the candidates themselves.

I think the unfortunate loss of local news outlets in recent years has been devastating to our community and democracy because I think civic participation requires that citizens are aware of what’s happening in their local communities. But that’s a lot harder when there are fewer and fewer local news outlets reporting on local events and issues. Colleges, especially PCC with its history of KPCC, have a role to play in supporting local news, and that includes helping to build the pipeline of future journalists.

PCC has a student newspaper, the Courier. When I was a student, I had classmates who worked for the Courier, and some of them ended up becoming journalists. PCC also has a separate academic journalism program, which offers an associate’s degree and certificate in journalism.

What’s really exciting about this program is the opportunity to earn academic credit by taking on an internship in journalism. PCC, such as through the Robert G. Freeman Center for Career and Completion, should build strong relationships with local news outlets and place interested PCC students into internships at these outlets, so they gain experience working in local journalism and potentially launch a career in it.

But I don’t think we should limit this exposure to only students who have a current interest in journalism. There might be students who don’t even know that journalism could be a career. I think it’d be great to host career panels with local journalists to expose students to these opportunities so PCC helps build a pipeline of future journalists who’ll continue to do this important work. And I want to note and acknowledge the important role of ethnic media, as well, which provides news in different languages like Spanish and Mandarin. A lot of our community members, especially immigrants, rely on these ethnic local news outlets.

Q– On your Web site, you have a step-by-step on “how to get to Yale,” “how to get to Oxford,” and “how to get back to Yale.” A student would spend hours talking about that to a school counselor. What do students say about the FAQs?

A– It is not traditional for a campaign Web site to have FAQs to help students navigate college. My parents were immigrants and refugees. When I considered going to college, community college ended up being the most affordable option for me…But, I didn’t really know how to navigate the process, and there was a lot of trial and error trying to use counselors reading up on things by myself…

And then, I transferred from community college to Yale, and I was one of three community college transfer students in 2015 to Yale. And I remember when I got there, some people called it “imposter syndrome,” which is the sense that I didn’t really belong. And the thing was that after two years, I was doing as well as anyone else who came straight to Yale from high school.

“Some people called it ‘imposter syndrome,’ which is the sense that I didn’t really belong.”

Ryan Liu

I want to pay it forward and give other people the same opportunities that I’ve had for the last ten years…I always try to carve out time when I have it to meet with them, either through a call or in person. What I’ve realized after ten years of doing this is that a lot of information is just not well-known to people from my background…I figured I could consolidate that information on this Web site and that when students reach out, I can just send them a link to all this information that I created long before I actually decided to launch my campaign.

Q– It’s important because most students think the only option is to take out a $150,000 loan.

A– That is the unfortunate reality…The cost of a college education has become more and more expensive, and students need to take on an increasing amount of student loan debt. And that was a big concern of mine when I graduated high school…So, community college ended up being the best option for me. And for a lot of students, any sort of post-secondary education or job training is still one of the most reliable ways to earn a higher income and gain entry to the middle class.

Q– Are there any new educational programs or policies you look forward to sharing or implementing if elected to the district?

A– I’ve been involved in community college policy and advocacy for the last ten years, ever since I first became a PCC student. One of the biggest and most exciting movements I’ve witnessed through the years is a focus on building and expanding dual enrollment programs…There are a lot of benefits to these programs. For starters, you’re getting students exposed to higher education at an earlier age. They are enrolled in actual college courses while still in high school, and they earn real college credit.

If these high school students decide to attend PCC after high school, then their transition is more seamless because they’re already registered PCC students. If they go straight to a four-year college or university after high school, then they can transfer these dual enrollment credits, which allows them to fulfill course requirements early.

This relates to what we said earlier – it saves money in the long run, as the cost of higher education has become more and more expensive. And there are even instances when students are graduating high school with both their high school diplomas and their associate’s degrees, so they’re essentially finishing half of their college education before they even graduate high school…So, as a trustee, I would also support building and expanding dual enrollment, especially to more districts in my area.

We need to build strong relationships with the school districts that we’re hoping to partner with. I’ve been grateful to have met with nearly all local school board members and superintendents in my area over these last few months to learn more about their needs.

Q– So, what do you think happened to shut down the Rosemead satellite campus?

A– …I think the satellite campus was created with the understanding, at least from the El Monte Union High School District, that it was going to be maybe a temporary arrangement. I want to say for starters, I strongly support PCC having a presence in the Rosemead area, which is in my trustee area, because that area is on the outskirts of the PCC service area, and I think inadvertently often feels ignored or feels a world away from the Colorado campus.

And I think what ultimately resulted was a misunderstanding about how long it was going to be in the area…So, I think moving forward, even though there was a misunderstanding about how long PCC was going to be using this building. I think it’s strategic for us to find a long-term site, and I will be strongly supportive of that.

Q– That brings me to my question about creating collegiality and collaboration within the entire PCC community, from the trustees to the staff, the President and the Foundation. What are your ideas for getting over some of those hurdles?

A– All these different constituent bodies at a community college share the same goal, which is providing the best education for students because they’re all informed by their different experiences and perspectives. So, I think this sometimes leads to misunderstandings, which can occasionally become contentious. I think trustees have a responsibility to set a collegial, collaborative tone in the way that we deliberate and discuss issues and demonstrate our willingness to engage openly with groups on campus.

I think a big part of that is ensuring that trustees are always accessible to campus and community members. For example, when I was on our Student Government Board, very rarely did any trustees come to visit our meetings, which made trustees inaccessible to us as students. It’s, I think, important for trustees to be present at campus events and functions and meet folks where they are…so individuals start to see each other as actual people with the same shared mission of advancing the college. They don’t just interact at very formal board meetings.

“It’s, I think, important for trustees to be present at campus events and functions and meet folks where they are…so individuals start to see each other as actual people with the same shared mission of advancing the college.”

Ryan Liu

PCC serves not only the campus but also the greater PCC service area. And I think we have to think about ways that we can increase that collaboration.

Years ago, PCC invited superintendents of local school districts to visit and tour our campus. That hasn’t happened for a while now. But I think that’s something I would definitely try to bring back and expand upon, such as by inviting local superintendents, city managers, and civic and elected leaders in the area to tour the campus and to understand better the resources and programs that PCC has to offer.

Q– So, on the PCC campus, what do you think was the disconnect between the Trustees and the Foundation?

A– I’m not completely sure what disconnect there could have been, because whatever was done happened in closed session or behind public view. But I can say that I’ve known the PCC Foundation ever since I was a student…and I really appreciate the work that the PCC Foundation does.

…As a trustee member, and because the Foundation is a separate entity, you have to liaise with them, and you ideally should work collaboratively…I will try my best to be able to work with them to further some of these shared missions of supporting students, especially because we’re entering our 100th year of PCC existence. And I think finding creative ways to help support students’ basic needs, in addition to, of course, their academic needs that are funded through scholarships, is an important priority for me.

Q– My last question is an open one for you to discuss a topic important to your campaign.

A– As the cost of higher education has become more expensive, a lot of students just start to think that pursuing a higher education or any sort of post-secondary education or job training isn’t a worthwhile endeavor…And you know, a big thing that I wanted to ensure during this campaign is work that I’ve done in the past ten years in the community, which is informing community members and students that there is still extreme value in attaining a post-secondary job training or education, regardless of what your career goals are, and especially at an affordable institution like PCC because it’s still one of the most reliable ways to enter the middle class.

…I visit a lot of schools to share information about PCC’s programs and resources. My hope through this campaign is to continue reaching voters and local community members to share the message that whatever your education and career goals are, there is space for you at our community colleges, and post-secondary education and job training can still uplift lives and families. I know this because I’ve seen it in my life, and as a trustee, I will continue working to guarantee that all students have the same opportunities that I had to uplift myself and my family through the promise of higher education.

I actually have a younger brother who went to PCC, like myself, and he found a passion for art.

Just a couple of months ago, I got to see him graduate from UC Berkeley. I owe it all to PCC, and I think he does, too… My mom fled the Cambodian genocide to America, and my dad was born in Taiwan, but he grew up in Argentina and left his family to immigrate to the US to pursue a brighter future. All their sacrifices led to me being an attorney and my brother being an artist having gone to Berkeley.

I think all of that shows really the potential and the promise of community college, and that’s something that I want to convey to students in the community that whatever their goals, community college provides them a launchpad to reach them.

Series Navigation<< Q&A: Rick Cole. Aspiration / InspirationQ&A: Alex Balekian. Meaningful Community Change >>
The short URL of this article is: https://localnewspasadena.com/u9qk

Sheryl Turner

Sheryl is Local News Pasadena's Publisher and Pasadena Media Foundation's Founder. When not saving local news, she devotes her spare time to finding the best meatloaf in town.
Email: [email protected]

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