Since its founding in 2015, Madison365 — the nonprofit news outlet focused on communities of color across Wisconsin — has published a list of the state’s most influential Black and Latinx leaders. “Each year, after we publish every list,” wrote Madison365 founder Henry Sanders, “we hear from the community. We hear genuine excitement and gratitude for the recognition. We hear new names to include in future lists. And, invariably, we hear, ‘When will you honor leaders from other communities of color?’ ” This August, Madison365 published its first-ever list of Wisconsin’s most influential Asian American leaders. The list showcases a broad sampling of grassroots neighborhood advocates, educators, lawyers, elected officials, civil servants, vice presidents, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and more.
Since 2018, the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association has partnered with Madison365 to produce Badger Vibes, the newsletter celebrating the diverse UW experience, which you’re reading right now. When Madison365’s “Wisconsin’s 48 Most Influential Asian American Leaders” was published, we celebrated the six UW alumni and two campus leaders who were featured.
Get to know these eight accomplished and inspirational leaders, but rest assured, there are many more out there doing the work. Check out the entire list here.
Bryan Chan x’90 founded SupraNet in 1994 to provide the Madison business community with Internet access. Chan has since co-founded and organized a number of other events, including the annual Forward Festival. Chan serves on multiple boards such as the United Way of Dane County, Overture Center for the Arts and Madison Museum of Contemporary Arts. Additionally, Chan was the “Small Business Executive of the Year” award winner by InBusiness Magazine in 2015 and the “Brian D Howell Excellence in Innovation” and “Isthmus Independent Business” awards in 2014.
Arvind Gopalratnam ’04 is the vice president of corporate social responsibility for the Milwaukee Bucks. He is a native of the Milwaukee area, a proud graduate of UW–Madison and George Washington University and a lifetime Wisconsin sports fan. As a member of the Bucks community team, Gopalratnam helps lead the organization’s mission to make the place in which we work and play a better place for all families to live. Gopalratnam is currently in his third season with the Bucks after spending 11 years in corporate communications for NBC Universal and General Electric (GE)’s health care business. With GE, Gopalratnam developed extensive experience in the sports and health care industries as a corporate spokesperson, manager of crisis communications globally, coach for senior-level executives on communications tactics, and strategist for internal and external communications.
Peng Her is the community relations coordinator for UW–Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP), and the director of the Hmong Institute. Prior to his work with IRP, he was the associate director for Center for Resilient Cities and, before that, vice president of Promise Zone and Partnerships at Urban League of Greater Madison. Her has worked with officials, residents, and service providers to remove barriers to success for 15 years. He helped establish Hmong American studies at UW–Madison and Edgewood College and was associate director of the Center for Resilient Cities. He is on the Morgridge Center for Public Service advisory board, Badger Rock Middle School board, and several other boards in the community.
Adam Jackson ’98 is a senior culture officer at Humana in Green Bay. He is the chair for the Brown County United Way board of directors and is on the board of directors for Green Bay Chamber’s Partners in Education. Jackson is a graduate of Madison East High and a 1998 graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he studied English and creative writing. Active in his Green Bay community, Jackson has been a member of the events planning committee of the Brown County celebration to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Gabe Javier, originally from Saint Louis, Missouri, and the son of immigrants from the Philippines, was appointed as the associate vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in December 2019. Javier oversees the Multicultural Student Center (MSC), Gender and Sexuality Campus Center (GSCC), International Student Services, McBurney Disability Resource Center, and University Veteran Services, all of which were previously under the Division of Student Life. Prior to this position, Javier served an assistant dean of students and director of the GSCC and then became interim director for the MSC. Before joining UW–Madison’s faculty, Javier served as interim assistant to the dean of students in the Office of the Dean of Students at the University of Michigan, which is where he received his master’s degree in higher education administration in 2006.
Renee Moe ’99, EMBA’08 is president and CEO of United Way of Dane County, a leader in the worldwide United Way network and across the nonprofit sector. Charity Navigator recently recognized United Way of Dane County in the top 3 percent of U.S. nonprofits. A military kid who grew up on three continents, Moe has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and Mandarin Chinese, and an executive MBA from UW–Madison. She has served as president of Downtown Rotary, been recognized with the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award and Wisconsin Women of Color Network Power of Unity Award, and been on both the Brava Woman 2 Watch list and Wisconsin School of Business’s 8 Under 40 list.
Paula Phillips ’16, who works to empower women and promote diverse leadership at the Medical College of Wisconsin, was first elected to represent the 7th District of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors in April 2017. In her current role, Phillips is focused on expanding leadership opportunities for women in academic medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Phillips is a first-generation college graduate and Filipina American who attended Milwaukee Area Technical College and earned a bachelor’s of science in agricultural and applied economics with a certificate in global health from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has developed a lifelong passion for education after seeing the tremendous impact it had on her own life and the stabilizing influence it can have on those who have difficult lives at home.
Kashoua (Kristy) Yang JD’09 is a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge. She was elected to a six-year term in 2017, becoming the first Asian American in Wisconsin elected to the judiciary without an appointment, and the first woman of Hmong ethnicity elected to the judiciary in the United States. Prior to ascending to the bench, she was in private practice in the areas of family law, worker’s compensation, and social security disability. Some of Judge Yang’s community service has included mentoring high school students and working with Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic, a legal clinic for Hmong speakers, and Legal Options for Trafficked and Underserved Survivors.
Read more about Yang in her 2019 Wisconsin Alumni Association® Forward under 40 Award profile.
Kabzuag Vaj x’98, the founder and coexecutive director of Freedom Inc., has dedicated the majority of her life to ending gender-based violence, starting from the young age of 16. Vaj was born in Laos and came to the U.S. as a refugee child with her mother and siblings and has spent her career building collective power in the Southeast Asian and Black communities. Along with cofounding Freedom Inc., Vaj also cofounded Building Our Future, a global campaign that targets traditional practices and beliefs that contribute to gender-based violence in Hmong communities. She was recognized as a Champion of Change at the White House during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 2011 and was recently named one of the 20 Women of Color in Politics to Watch in 2020 by She the People.
Nkauj Nou Vang-Vue ’07, MSW’08 has been the principal of Madison’s Lake View Elementary School since July 2018. She is the Madison Metropolitan School District’s first Hmong American principal and oversees the district’s only bilingual Hmong-English immersion program. Before serving as principal of Lake View, Vang-Vue was the assistant principal at Glenn Stephens Elementary School for three years. She also has a background in social work, working as a school social worker for Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools for almost five years. Vang-Vue received a bachelor’s in social work from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2007, a master’s in social work in the school setting from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2008, and a degree in educational leadership from Viterbo University in 2014.