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Bridges over Barriers: Supporting a Young Architect at CMAA

When she first arrived in the US in 2019, Emily Yeow was confronted with fast-paced English riddled with slang that felt far away from the English she learned growing up in Malaysia. Emily had always been a dedicated student and she feared how this language barrier might affect her academic future. She had dreams of attaining a college degree, but first she had to figure out how to finish high school.

Her first day of high school in the US was a struggle. Teachers were speaking quickly, using complex words and phrases, and applying teaching methods Emily had never encountered before. But Emily was determined to not let language stand between her and the education dream path she had set out for herself. After classes, she would either stay behind to ask her teachers clarifying questions or find classmates who could help explain what they had learned that day. Although this trudging process was exhausting, frustrating, and at times alienating, her relationships with teachers, classmates, and friends grew stronger through the shared support and collaboration. As her friends helped teach her bits of American slang and cultural habits, Emily helped her friends understand new cultures too, sharing stories about growing up in Malaysia and what it felt like to be new to the US as a teenager.

Soon after starting her first semester of high school, Emily’s family recommended that she join Chinese Mutual Aid Association’s Young Women Warriors (YWW) program. Emily found a piece of home in YWW. Many of the other young women mentees in the program were immigrants themselves or children of immigrants–she found shared understandings with them in the difficulties of adapting to life in the US, being away from one’s homeland, and trying to keep up with school. The relationships she formed in YWW with other mentees helped her form a strong support system, a reliable group of friends and mentors whom she could count on. One of these mentors was Jenny Han.

Jenny is one of YWW’s most experienced mentors–she immediately saw Emily’s academic drive and passion. Jenny worked closely with Emily to think about what interested Emily, the academic subjects that excited her, and where she saw herself in 10 years. Architecture soon became a clear vision, a blend of Emily’s innate talents, academic passions, and career goals. With the support and recommendation of Jenny, Emily navigated the new and difficult process of college applications and made a submission to the Illinois Institute of Technology. And she got in.

Emily is now in her fourth year at the Illinois of Technology, on track to graduate next year with a Bachelor of Architecture, a Master of Management, and a Minor in Construction Management in Spring 2025. After graduation, with three degrees in-hand, she plans to pursue her career goals at an architecture firm.

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