Once a shy high school student in suburban Washington, D.C., Jack Kang credits Northwestern for awakening his social side. More than three decades later, Kang’s once-latent outgoing spirit endures. Born in South Korea, Kang now lives in suburban Chicago. He sets prices for locomotive parts at Wabtec Corp., a rail technology company. He also serves as president of the Northwestern University Asian and Asian American Alumni Association (NU-A5).
Hailed as one of the Northwestern Alumni Association’s Clubs of the Year in 2020, NU-A5 offers programming focused on career and culture while also delivering financial support to the University’s Asian American Studies Program. Under Kang’s leadership, the 19-year-old organization launched virtual events within weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first stay-at-home orders and leveraged the expertise of Asian American alumni to bring members meaningful, relevant perspectives on issues such as mental health, racism and women’s empowerment. This fall, Kang will receive the NAA’s 2021 Club Leader of the Year Award for his efforts.
What brought you to Northwestern?
In high school I scheduled an interview with a Northwestern alumna, and as soon as I arrived at her mansion of a house, she said, “Do you mind if we do this outdoors?” She then walked me to her convertible, and we drove along the Potomac River. I don’t remember what I said, but I realized I wanted to be just like her. I applied early decision to the McCormick School of Engineering.
And was Northwestern the right choice?
Absolutely. Academically, Northwestern challenged me and opened my eyes, but it was all the social skills that I picked up that really stayed with me. I met people from different backgrounds and races and gained the confidence to put myself out there socially because, one, I was accepted and, two, people were naturally curious about each other.
How did you become involved with NU-A5?
After relocating back to Chicago for work, I attended an NU-A5 social event in 2017 and noticed I was the only person from my era. I approached the organizer and said, “You know, I want to contribute my time because I think there’s an entire population that’s not being reached.”
Why is giving back important to you?
I believe Northwestern has a unique opportunity to increase its level of engagement with the Asian American alumni base. Beginning in the 1990s, the number of graduates of Asian descent began growing steadily. That’s a group approaching their prime years for philanthropic service, a group ready to be engaged and reintegrated back into the alumni community. Today, one in five graduating seniors is of Asian descent. The timing is right for this organization to make a significant impact, engage alumni and benefit the University in a meaningful way.
What are your plans for NU-A5?
We need to continue to diversify our board because the Asian American alumni base is multicultural, including a fast-growing South Asian alumni community. It encompasses a broad spectrum of people from many backgrounds, from first-generation college students such as myself to legacy Northwestern graduates. Embracing the diversity within the diversity will help us connect and keep us relevant and nimble.