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Bringing California Sunshine to Oklahoma:Celebrating Asian American &Pacific Islander Heritage Month


At Southwest Airlines we build resilient communities by making connections that empower communities to thrive.  We are proud to celebrate Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month and highlight stories like this one from Nancy Yap.


As the Director of Development at Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP), I have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of student leaders through Leadership In Action (LIA). LIA is an eight-week paid summer internship program designed to develop emerging young leaders by providing college students with practical leadership skills and the opportunity to work hands-on in the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community in Southern California. Because of Southwest Airlines’ support of the program, LEAP has been able to provide travel for the out-of-state participants.  In addition, LEAP also invites these participants to bring a guest to their program’s graduation. 



 2016 Leadership In Action Alumni2016 Leadership In Action Alumni

Last summer, LIA had seven participants. Two participants joined the program from out of stateone from Oklahoma and the other from Minnesota. Two months after the close of the program, LEAP checked in with the participants. After speaking with the summer program alumni, I was inspired by the impact that Southwest Airlines’ support has had on the participants, especially Angie Tran.





Angie applied to LIA from Oklahoma. In her application, Angie gave her reasons for applying to the LIA program.


“As a person of color in the Midwest and a predominately white community, it is important for me to find resources outside of my home state so that I can gain different perspectives and strategies to incorporate in my local (API) community. Resources are very limited in Oklahoma, and I believe that this voucher will ease my finances, and LEAP will enable me to become more exposed to Asian and Pacific Islander issues and prepare me to represent my community with stride.”


Angie was placed at the Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) where she had a chance to work closely with the Executive Director. From community organizing to urban planning, Angie learned about the different aspects of running a nonprofit organization and advocating for a small community in Los Angeles. In addition, Angie mentioned that the staff at Thai CDC was supportive of her aspirations to someday run for office in Oklahoma. She saw the value of growing her network and tearfully expressed her gratitude to both Thai CDC and LEAP for the opportunity to participate in the LIA program. 


In addition, Angie chose to use Southwest Airlines’ support to bring her mother to Los Angeles for the LIA’s graduation.  When requesting the voucher, she shared what it would mean to have her mother in Los Angeles.  


“The last time my mom was on an airplane was when she arrived to the United States from Vietnam 25 years ago. Since then, she has worked 40 hours a week to raise my brother and me so we can pursue an education. She has never had the opportunity to travel, attend many of my school events, or enjoy herself. This voucher will allow my mom and I to spend time together in another state and expose her to other places outside of Oklahoma. Furthermore, she has never been able to attend any school events or ceremonies because of work. My Leadership in Action graduation will be one of the first times she gets to see my accomplishments. It is difficult for me to express my experiences to my mom because of our language barrier. With this opportunity, my mom will witness first hand my passion for social change and meet individuals who have made a lasting impact on me.”

 From Left to Right:  Steve Lin (LEAP Program Manager), Angie Tran, Linda Akutagawa (LEAP President & CEO)From Left to Right: Steve Lin (LEAP Program Manager), Angie Tran, Linda Akutagawa (LEAP President & CEO)

 As a senior, Angie is involved in many student organizations and in student government.  She is using different skills and tools she learned during her internship to help her organize on her campus. She also spoke about the impact that the program has had on how she is planning for her future. She now seeks opportunities she had not recently considered. With the guidance of mentors from Los Angeles, she feels she has a stronger and more diverse network to turn to for advice. Lastly, she shared more about her experience with her mom in Los Angeles and mentioned that she is closer to her mom than she has ever been before. Having her in Los Angeles helped them to understand one another and gave them a chance to explore together.


As LEAP continues to partner with Southwest Airlines, I am reminded over and over again of the value of bringing people together from around the country. With a diversity of perspective, LEAP’s programs become richer for the participants. However, the opportunity to travel and experience new things together continues to strengthen relationships and communities.


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