A Celebration of APIDA Heritage, April 2023

April 10, 2023

Our Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American Heritage is a celebration of community, one as colorful and vibrant as it is diverse. Just as in a family, our differences stemming from over 40 nationalities, dozens of religions and hundreds of languages are a part of what makes us strong.

-Adapted from the UArizona Asian Pacific American Student Affairs website

This month we celebrate APIDA Heritage; APIDA stands for Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American. Here at TLA, we’re excited to introduce you to some of our ecosystem members who hail from these cultures. Some are UArizona professors and inventors who we’ve worked with over the years. Some are staff members on our team. All are champions for commercialization and making a better world through research, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

We asked each to send us a few words about themselves, their cultures and their professional lives, and we share their reflections with you here.

We hope you enjoy getting to know them. Together, our diversity makes us stronger.

Joel Cuello, Professor of Biosystems Engineering, Arid Lands Resource Sciences, Applied Biosciences, and the BIO5 Institute

Cuello at the 2022 IEEE International Conference on Humanoid, Nanotechnology, Information Technology, Communication and Control, Environment, and Management, which was held on the island of Boracay in the Philippines.

Cuello at the 2022 IEEE International Conference on Humanoid, Nanotechnology, Information Technology, Communication and Control, Environment, and Management, which was held on the island of Boracay in the Philippines.

Courtesy of Joel Cuello

Professor Cuello has worked with TLA for many years and is a dedicated, impact-focused inventor and startup entrepreneurship catalyst and advisor. 

“The Philippines, where I was born, constitutes that geographical crossroads in Southeast Asia—a former Spanish and American colony—where different peoples, ideas, cultures, languages, and religions have come together over millennia. 

“From deep time, people in the Philippines congregated and lived with one another in a babel of languages, dialects, cultures, ideas, and religions, directly shaping the twofold hallmark of contemporary Filipino culture today – that is, empathy and the ability to thrive in a hodgepodge world. As a Philippine-born American professor, engineer, scientist, and citizen, empathy informs not only my relationships with my students, colleagues, and people in general but how I design sustainable solutions relating to food and biological production in the context of the natural environment that is currently under enormous multi-faceted pressure from our exponentially growing global population to resource scarcity to the changing climate, etc. And thriving in a hodgepodge world is a significant part of the reason why I am a professor today since the 21st-century professor is one who constantly and deftly juggles multiple balls in the air in regard to research, teaching, publishing, student mentoring, industry collaborations, global outreach, and others.

“My cultural history has influenced me in countless ways. I had my DNA deciphered about eight years ago, revealing that I am 70% East Asian, 25% Pacific Islander, 4% South Asian, and about 1% African. My genetic makeup subtly unveiled the molecular mileposts laid down by my ancient forebears during their odyssey in deep time across continents and millennia after they had moved out of Africa, from where everyone came. What's more, the Philippines where I was born and grew up before my own migration to the United States 35 years ago, had been a Spanish colony for 350 years and subsequently a U.S. colony for 48 more years. Thus, one -- humanity is a verb, not a noun. And, two -- we all, globally, are related to one another. And both have enormously enriched and continue to enrich my professional life as they have directly aided in building the global reach of my educational and research functions as a professor at the UA.”

Judith Su, Assistant Professor, James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences, College of Engineering, and the BIO5 Institute 

Su, her two children, and her husband.

Su, her two children, and her husband.

Courtesy of Judith Su

Assistant Professor Su is an accomplished inventor with seven issued patents and is a Senior Member of the National Academy of Inventors. She also recently received the University Early Career Innovation & Entrepreneurship Award. 

"My parents were born and grew up in Taiwan. After my dad finished college, he went to Caltech for his graduate studies. He later decided to stay in the US and become a professor. I was born in Bryan/College Station, Texas. As my father was growing up, he was immersed in traditional Chinese culture. In our daily interactions, he would tell me stories of Confucius, Lao Tze, and others. From them, I learned to study, work hard, and live a virtuous, moral life.

"Growing up in a Chinese family, we value above all education and love for family. My parents always put us first, and that is how I raise my children. Regardless of my work’s demands, I put my family first and have time for my children.  

"My dad often quotes his father's advice that genuine gold will not fear the test of fire. Several years into my Ph.D. research on label-free single-molecule sensing using microtoroid optical resonators, I found I could not repeat others' published results. It would take more years of hard work to improve the signal/noise ratio thousandfold. Still, I got things to work and invented FLOWER (frequency-locked optical whispering evanescent resonator) (U.S. Patent Numbers 9,739,770 and 10,309,960). I'm the sole inventor of these patents. I could only accomplish this with solid support from my family. I will always appreciate my cultural heritage, scientific upbringing, and a society that encourages diversity to flourish to shape new frontiers to build a better world."

Tariq Ahmed, Senior Licensing Manager, College of Engineering, Tech Launch Arizona

Tariq Ahmed at a wedding with his three siblings, wife Ruby, and his parents and their grandchildren. 

Tariq Ahmed (third from right) at a wedding with his three siblings, his wife Ruby, and his parents and their grandchildren. 

Courtesy of Tariq Ahmed

Working across the many disciplines covered by the College of Engineering, Ahmed is dedicated to helping the innovative faculty, researchers, and graduate students of the college translate inventions stemming from research into the marketplace. 

“Growing up, I've always felt a strong connection to my cultural and family roots, which can be traced back to Karachi, Pakistan. My parents, who are predominantly Punjabi and Muslim, played a significant role in shaping my identity. After moving to Toronto, Canada at a young age, I was raised in a nurturing environment where my parents pursued various entrepreneurial ventures, setting an example of hard work and determination for me and my three siblings.

“Today, that part of my identity manifests most strongly in my curiosity to learn and my desire to help others. As the eldest sibling, I was instilled with a strong motivation to develop myself to my fullest potential, so I could contribute meaningfully to my family and community. Our active involvement in the community taught me the importance of sharing our wealth and time to support those around us.

“This rich cultural history has undoubtedly influenced the direction and enriched my professional life. The entrepreneurial spirit of my parents has inspired me to seek out opportunities and take calculated risks in my career. Additionally, the values of community engagement and helping others have led me to seek professions where I can make a positive impact on people's lives. As I continue to grow personally and professionally, I am grateful for the lessons and experiences that my family's history has provided me.”

Jianling Liu, Senior Business Analyst, Tech Launch Arizona

Jianling Liu

Jianling Liu

Photo credit: Caroline King

Liu manages TLA's database and leads in leveraging IP data for statistical analysis and strategic planning.

"I grew up in a small town in the south of China along the Yangzi River. 

"I came to the United States from China to study and work for a better life. What many don’t see is the challenges that I’ve faced in making a life here while missing my parents and siblings who still live in China.”

"My Asian heritage has had a huge influence on my professional life. Respecting my colleagues, honesty, being humble, and an eagerness to learn from others are all traits that are highly valued and taught from an early age in our culture. I live them every day at TLA."

Leah Langlais, Venture Development Manager – Life Sciences, Tech Launch Arizona

Leah Langlais

As Venture Development Manager for the Life Sciences, Langlais focuses on connecting UA startup companies with the people and resources they need to grow and succeed. 

“My parents immigrated from Hong Kong in the late 1970s to make a better life for their family. My father is from Shanghai and my mother is from Hong Kong. They both worked in healthcare (My father was a pharmacist and my mother was a dialysis nurse), which is where I got my first exposure to life science. I grew up speaking Cantonese at home and spent a significant amount of time with my paternal grandparents who cared for me when I was young.

“I'm very proud to be an American-born Chinese. My Chinese upbringing most strongly manifests in my life through the food I cook for my friends and family. Food was the glue that bound my family together growing up. The dinner table was where our family engaged and stayed connected to one another. I grew up with my mom and grandparents cooking wonderful foods that I remember to this day. I try to recreate those sounds, smells, and flavors for my family so they can experience my love for them through their bellies!

“Being the only one born and raised in the U.S. was difficult. I had to straddle my very traditional life at home with the American way of life outside of it. I was very fortunate to have spent many summers in Hong Kong, living and learning in a completely different place. However, I grew up to be a tomboy and was very active in non-traditional things like sports. I embraced being one of few Asian women who worked in collegiate sports marketing and worked even harder to show that I belonged in a profession that was not very diverse. I grew up watching my parents become one of the best in their field with many sacrifices taken along the way. I learned how to be independent, strong, giving, and hard-working, which has led to amazing experiences throughout my life. I continue to take these experiences with me and share them with my own family so my daughter will understand that no matter what life brings to you, you can always get through it with compassion and hard work."