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A Day in the Life: Student Engagement Director Alex Yu (He/Him/His)

Written by Bannon Puckett on Jun 21, 2021

Related content: Diversity And Inclusion, 2U Denver

This story is a part of our “A Day in the Life'' series that highlights the career journeys of 2U employees across the world. Throughout June, we’re celebrating Pride Month and featuring members of 2Q, the company’s Business Resource Network for LGBTQIA+ employees and allies.

Without mentorship, Alex Yu would not be where he is today. Back in 2015, Alex received a call from a former colleague and mentor, who had just started working at 2U and highly recommended the company.

Alex will never forget that conversation—or what happened next. As he puts it, “One cross-country flight and eight interviews later, I fell in love with the company, the mission, and the people, and started at 2U just three weeks after!”

Over the past six years, Alex has had no shortage of achievements at 2U. Read on to see how this lifelong learner passionately launched a corporate mentorship program and drove diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts as the global chair of 2Q—all the while working toward obtaining his MBA and Doctor of Education through 2U-powered programs.

Attending Vanderbilt's commencement in May—where Alex earned his Ed.D.

What are some of the different roles you’ve held at 2U?

I’ve worked in multiple departments during my tenure at 2U, from establishing the entire Live Classroom Support team to launching the University of Southern California’s online Master of Science in Integrated Design, Business and Technology (Design@USC) degree program as the director of operations and program management, to being the student success director and now a director II of student engagement.

Being a student engagement director has been such a fantastic and rewarding experience. In my current role, I work with so many stakeholders to ensure that at the end of the day, we connect students with the schools of their choice. I get to develop strategic plans for our department, coach and engage with everyone from student engagement managers to admissions counselors to student success advisors, and partner with deans and program directors on vision and direction— often all within the same day.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

I appreciate that no matter what department you’re in, everyone has a shared mission: to celebrate the success of our students and support them in achieving their goals. One of my proudest moments in my career at 2U was when I was the director of operations and program management for Design@USC, and all the students showed up for the first time on campus. I was the “proud dad” who took their first photo together as a class, outside of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County—you could see the synergy of all those students together in the same space for the first time. All the hard work in launching the program, mapping out the curriculum, and fielding the nonstop logistical questions paid off. It was magical.

Alex and colleagues dressed up for the Halloween costume contest during 2UBoo

You earned your Ed.D. from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody School, a 2U partner, this past December. What impact has education had on your life?

As a Doctor of Education, I can truly say that education has been a driving force in my life. I strongly believe that the act of learning is a transformative experience. It can help people make sense of the world around them, which is critical to self-reflection and growth. To learn is to acquire a powerful tool to help inform all future decision-making processes.

Personally, I love working in education—I see our company as being in the business of creating opportunities for people, whether that means teaching skills for upward mobility, connecting students with industry leaders, or simply enlightening the mind and soul. As a child of immigrants, I was always told that spending time learning is an act that nourishes your future self for success. I’ve also recently transitioned from being a student of education to actually teaching with the University of Colorado Denver, working with their programs through the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship—something I am beyond excited about!

If you are comfortable doing so, tell us your “coming out” story.

In some ways, becoming the global chair of 2Q was my final coming out story. It was a big step for me to be in the spotlight for something regarding this part of my identity. I really credit those employees who were out and proud here at 2U when I first started in 2015—these were the people who boldly displayed Pride flags on their desks. I had not seen that before at the other companies where I had worked. This was before same-sex marriage was legalized and definitely before any BRNs even existed. These small displays made a big impact and personally paved the way for me from feeling accepted at 2U to actively working toward creating a more equitable workplace for all.

This is how I saw my role as global chair of 2Q. I never forgot that feeling of knowing that no matter what happened, there were people who I knew were a part of my community all around me. At 2U, I’ve tried to be out and proud in a way that encourages others to be their authentic selves. I often say, “If we could make just one person feel safer, sooner, we will have done something remarkable.”

A wedding photo in Bainbridge Island, Washington, from 2019

You’re a member of both 2Q and the Asian Pacific Islander Network (APIN). Can you describe a couple of highlights from your time participating in these BRNs?

I am incredibly honored to be a part of the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work at 2U. As the founding global chair of 2Q, I was immediately elevated to a position where I had a large audience and intended on amplifying the voices of our community in a productive, solution-oriented way. We drove awareness of the importance of pronoun usage, which was cemented in our culture when David Sutphen presented this in front of the Company Meeting in 2019. We advocated for disposable hygiene products to be available in all restrooms, while simultaneously working to eliminate gender-specific restrooms. At this point, 2Q has hosted nearly 100 events for our 400+ LGBTQIA+ folx and allies. During 2Q’s inaugural year, members marched in two Pride Month celebrations in Denver and Baltimore (and celebrated widely across two Cape Town offices)—a first for 2U!

What I’ve loved the most is being able to provide educational opportunities to those who are still exploring their identity or are curious to learn more. We have hosted queer coffee chats, a quarterly book club, and informative sessions around celebrating ballroom, queer parenting, and trans narratives. We’ve also created volunteer opportunities through Whitman-Walker (to end HIV) and Urban Peak (services for homeless youth) to give back to our community.

In addition, joining APIN was a no-brainer. APIN got its start right when I was finishing up my two-year tenure as the global chair for 2Q, and I wanted to experience the work that global chair Jeenie Yoon and the other APIN leaders have created as a member. I am incredibly amazed and consistently impressed by the work APIN has done to support not only those of the APIN community during a difficult year, but to persistently celebrate intersectionality between APIN members and those in our other BRNs: BNet, TuGente, W.A.N., and of course, 2Q.

As 2Q global chair, Alex organized 2U's first year participating in Denver's Pride Parade

June is Pride Month, while May was Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. What do these observances mean to you?

I’m all for reminders to celebrate one another, but I want to make sure that we don’t compartmentalize people into specific identities where everyone gets only a day, week, or month to celebrate. I also have to remember that in many ways, calling attention to a specific month or anniversary is a means of educating others about the difficult journey of advocacy, hardship, and oftentimes tragedy that eventually leads to a place of joyous celebration. That’s why it was important for us to not only celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 2019, but also to create an education pillar to the work we do at 2Q—to bring to light the circumstances in which activists and organizers stood together and showed up in force to create change.

What is your perspective on the subject of intersectionality?

Having been born and raised in New York City, intersectionality was a norm and expectation for me. I am so grateful that I grew up surrounded by different cultures, languages, accents, gender representations, and income levels. It enabled me to be a quick study of the world at large—and to recognize that where there is no diversity, homogeneity can inadvertently lead to oppression of anyone that isn’t the “norm,” even if it is unintentional. My perspective on intersectionality is that every person sits at the intersection of all their identities, and it is truly what makes us special as people. We are all complex individuals who are the result of our lived experiences, and we should celebrate that in each other.

Alex's last day at 2U's Los Angeles office, where he used to work before moving to 2U Denver

Out of everything you’ve done at 2U so far, what are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the work I have been able to do with the Student Engagement mentoring program, alongside my amazing colleague and friend Christa Stramella. We’ve been working together on building a robust mentoring program for the past two years and have recently surpassed 200+ mentor pairings across the department. We have partnered with our Student Engagement Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee (SE-DISC)—for which I am the sponsor of the Leadership and Development pillar—to ensure that mentorship is an active program to provide equitable development of our entire department. We firmly believe that mentoring can be a great growth and development tool that also aids in promoting DEI values across our department. I have personally benefited so much from my own relationship with my mentors and mentees (it’s how I got my start at 2U!), and I am so happy to have built something that hopefully will be a positive force in people’s lives for years to come.

What advice would you give to someone just starting at 2U?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent the past three years of my life studying and learning about leading and learning in organizations. Knowing the theories, seeing them in practice, and reading case studies about other workplaces, I know in my heart of hearts that 2U is a fantastic place to work, and it’s because of the people. The people you meet here care about one another and do their best to show up every day. I’ve been so blessed to get to work with these amazing people and hope you see what I see in 2U!


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