by Rachel Williams
When I first joined UCF as a freshman, I was shy and anxious about how the next four years would be. Little did I know that, through joining a small campus club called Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE), I would find a community of lifelong friends, along with parts of myself I had never known about.
SASE strives to create and support a diverse community of students interested in Asian culture, including students of Asian heritage. Its three core pillars are community service, professional development, and cultural heritage. They embody these pillars by providing members with workshops, socials, and fun events that celebrate Asian heritage, teach skills essential for the workforce, and provide an inclusive environment for students to develop professionally and personally.
As someone who grew up as “the quiet student,” I was initially skeptical about joining a new club, especially in a college environment where I only knew a couple other students. However, after joining one of SASE’s meetings, I changed my mind. I immediately felt welcome. Some members, who noticed I was standing by myself, asked if I wanted to join their group, and many of the officers came up to introduce themselves and genuinely got to know me. I had so much fun playing the games during the meeting and getting to step outside of my shell and meet new people. This sense of welcome and fun was what inspired me to move from member to vice president in my junior year.
SASE offered me something I lacked in high school: a community that celebrated a common cultural heritage.
Some of my favorite things about SASE are our creative, themed meetings. One I particularly remember was our October meeting based off the popular Netflix series Squid Game. During this meeting, we played the childhood game “Red Light, Green Light,” along with musical chairs. These games left our officers and members laughing so hard we had to stop to catch our breath and regroup. Looking around the room, the sea of bright smiles and laughter sticks with me to this day. In this moment I realized the main reason why my officers and I work so hard for each of our club’s events: the people—the community we had found, created, contributed to, connected with, and felt a part of.
Serving as Vice President, and later as President, of SASE has taught me several lessons I would like to share with future or current students. The first is to embrace your cultural background and take time to reconnect with your past. UCF organizations like SASE offered me something I lacked in high school: a community that celebrated a common cultural heritage. I was one of several Asian students in my K-12 schools and often did not have the opportunity to share and learn about my culture outside of home. Back then, I was aware of my culture, but I didn’t know about my culture. It wasn’t until I came to UCF and joined SASE that I started to learn more about, explore, and truly embrace my Vietnamese culture, which I now see as an indispensable part of the person I am today.
Another piece of advice I learned is to not get too caught up in the numbers. SASE was founded at UCF in 2020 right before the pandemic. As a relatively new organization, SASE has taught me a lot about quality over quantity. As an officer, I would often get discouraged when turnouts for meetings and events didn’t meet expectations. In fixating on increasing student attendance, I neglected what we were achieving beyond numbers: forging meaningful, lasting connections. I saw students who had come in for the first time as strangers hanging out together on campus. Students who had felt lost and overwhelmed came up to our officers after our events and told us that they were happy to have found a community where they felt accepted and supported. Their words spoke volumes and mattered so much more than having “xyz” number of students in attendance.
One of the most important lessons I learned through SASE is the importance of teamwork and embracing and learning from the diversity of backgrounds, cultures, and personalities on your team. This is beautifully expressed in an African proverb: “To go fast, go alone. But to go far, go together.”
As a newer club, SASE gave my officers and me the opportunity to have many “firsts” and learn the importance of taking initiative. We started SASE’s first mentorship and volunteering program, along with hosting, for the first time in UCF history, the SASE Southeast National Conference. This conference united nearly 200 students from universities in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina for inspiring workshops, a career fair, and the chance to meet and connect with fellow students from across the Southeast. We chose “ignite the spark” as the theme of our conference to embody the importance of taking those crucial first steps in one’s journey—whether big or small. Often, our fears of the unknown and uncertainties hold us back from taking the first step. It can be daunting to plunge into something for the first time, but remember that the first step is often the hardest, but most important, step. Oftentimes, taking initiative will open doors to new opportunities you never knew existed.
Furthermore, SASE pushed me to find and develop my own sense of confidence and sociability. To recruit new members and spread the word about our club, I had to speak to more and more people, often in front of classrooms full of students. At first, I felt unsure and awkward, but over time after repeatedly pushing myself to try things I hadn’t before—from attending new socials to public speaking to starting a YouTube channel—I developed my own confidence in my abilities and was able to approach things I had once viewed hesitantly with confidence and excitement.
Perhaps one of the most important lessons I learned through SASE is the importance of teamwork and embracing and learning from the diversity of backgrounds, cultures, and personalities on your team. This is beautifully expressed in an African proverb: “To go fast, go alone. But to go far, go together.” Through my time at SASE, I met so many amazing people from different walks of life. Input and ideas from a diverse group pushed the club to new heights, something that would not be possible through the perspective and vision of one person alone. Through connecting with different people and getting to hear their stories, I have learned so much—not just about how to build a creative, fun club, but also about teamwork, collaboration, and communication. It is through collaborating and sharing ideas, specialties, and stories that we can best move forward stronger and more equipped than before.
Through sharing these lessons, I hope they serve as encouragement for fellow students who may have faced similar hesitancies and challenges. College, and especially a big campus like UCF, is your chance to try new things, meet new people, and explore all the opportunities available to you. Don’t be afraid to take that first step; you never know what you’ll find, or who you’ll find, in the process.