May 25, 2022
Emily Chou and Andy Juele: Shaping a Strong Community
- as seen by -Julie Larsen Maher
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a time to celebrate Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched our history and contribute to our future.
Emily Chou and Andy Juele work for the Wildlife Conservation Society. They are co-leaders of ASIA (Asian Society for Inclusion and Action), an employee resource group in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion at WCS. I had the opportunity to find out about their perspectives and careers in the conservation field.
JLM: What are your jobs at WCS?
EC: I am a Research Assistant with WCS’s Ocean Giants Program. I work on various research projects related to marine mammal conservation, using different methods such as acoustics, habitat modeling, and human impact analysis.
AJ: I am the Assistant Manager of Guest Relations. I support Guest Relations staff who provide customer service, process correspondence, and facilitate safe, educational, and memorable guest experiences for visitors of the five WCS parks in New York City.
JLM: How did you find your way to a career at the Wildlife Conservation Society? (Tell me about your backgrounds and why you wanted to work for WCS.)
EC: Dolphins were my favorite animals as a kid, but I didn’t know anything about research until I went to college. I took a class in marine conservation, and that was the beginning of my journey to WCS. I then attended graduate school at Columbia University to get more experience, and it just so happened that the only marine mammal advisor in my program worked at WCS. I really identified with WCS’s mission and felt that working for an NGO fit my personality and my goals for my career. Luckily, after I finished my master’s degree, the Ocean Giants Program had just started an important project to protect whales right off New York. I was able to join as a research assistant.
AJ: I studied creative writing and literature as an undergrad, but the first part of my career was managing a busy restaurant in Manhattan. I loved helping both tourists and locals find a little bit of joy in their everyday. Meanwhile, as a writer, I found inspiration in public spaces where urban communities could relax, recreate, and become supporters of nature themselves. I sought to combine my customer service background with my advocacy for equitable green spaces by working with organizations like WCS whose missions aligned with my personal and professional goals of helping connect communities to the environment.
JLM: You are co-leaders of ASIA, the first employee resource group for API at WCS in its 127-year history. What does that mean to you personally?
EC: It makes me a bit emotional thinking about this because we share similar experiences as API in the US, so there is a sense of comfort and belonging amongst the group that I’ve yet to find elsewhere, especially given the events of the last couple of years. API represents one of the smallest ethnic groups that make up WCS staff, so it’s wonderful to feel a sense of community.
AJ: Personally, it means a sense of belonging. As a relative newcomer to WCS, I rarely met or worked with API staff during my first year. When I first joined the ASIA ERG, I immediately felt a connection with the group and wanted every employee at WCS to feel that kind of connection. It was honestly quite emotional to be a part of the group as it had its first event, and to see the API community at WCS make themselves known, both to me and to WCS as a whole. It was like finding a lost part of my family.
JLM: What are some of your achievements for ASIA? Challenges?
EC: Our first-ever ERG event was in celebration of the Lunar New Year, and we got to share many traditions and stories that a lot of participants had no idea about. I think that was a great first event for people to learn about API and our different cultural traditions. I’ll echo Andy in saying that one of the challenges is how small our group is; API represents many ethnicities, regions, and cultures, and only 5% of all WCS staff, so another challenge is making sure we are as representative as we can be in the group.
AJ: ASIA successfully had the first ERG event at WCS with its Lunar New Year celebration earlier this year. It was a great way for people to learn more about ASIA and its members, and hopefully spark an interest to join as well. A challenge for ASIA is that we are a relatively small group. We are always looking for opportunities to engage with API staff and allies because we may be missing key voices within our community who deserve to be heard as well.
JLM: What are the mission and goals of ASIA for the organization? What do you hope to achieve in the first year?
EC: Our first goal is to foster a sense of belonging and community at WCS. Another one of our goals for the first year is to increase our membership so we represent all facets of API staff at WCS – not just for those of API heritage, but also allies.
AJ: Part of ASIA’s mission this first year is to foster a sense of belonging in the workplace and shape a strong community that can promote best practices for diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout WCS. The “A” in ASIA stands for “Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Allies”, so one of our goals is to grow our membership, not just of API employees, but also of our allies at WCS who we have been working with all along and may not have realized that we are an underrepresented community here.
JLM: Any anecdotes, funny moments at your jobs?
EC: At an international conference, we were trying to hail a taxi to get to dinner, but there weren’t that many taxis around. I saw a car that looked really similar to the taxis there, so I quickly started waving my arm – only to find out it was a police car.
AJ: The best part of my job is helping a guest with something seemingly simple—like giving directions to an exhibit—that may change their experience of the Bronx Zoo, their connection to WCS, and ultimately global conservation for the better. My one act of showing a young visitor how to get to World of Birds or Madagascar! could spark a lifelong love for a particular animal or advocacy for the protection of its habitat and that gives me a lot of purpose.
JLM: What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?
EC: Officially, it’s a time in the US to celebrate the contributions of API people. For me, it’s not only a celebration but also a recognition of the sacrifices that our ancestors made to give us the opportunities we have now, and a time to learn about the diversity of ethnicities and cultures that are represented by “API”.
AJ: API Heritage Month to me means the start of a conversation. Asian Americans aren’t a monolith; there are myriad cultures, histories, hardships, and triumphs to honor and celebrate, yet people may think of only one or two East Asian cultures connected with Asian Americans. This month allows us to begin a conversation about how each Asian American experience has shaped this country and how we can continue to uplift one another even in times of racism, exploitation, and violence. I’m proud to bring a Filipino-American voice to that conversation.
JLM: What advice would you give the next generation that want a career in conservation?
EC: Be persistent. Some of my lowest lows were when I was pursuing a career in conservation, but there are many facets to conservation that benefit from a wide variety of skills and experiences. Be open to different opportunities. For some practical advice, if you want to do research, learn computer programming.
AJ: A career in conservation is always possible. I never thought being an English major who loved the outdoors would lead me to WCS, but in hindsight, it happened because I leveraged my work experience and applied it to something I was truly passionate about. You may think what you’ve studied is unrelated, or that your first jobs aren’t in the conservation field but keep going. That career in conservation is out there.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Wild View is featuring posts on their contributions that continue to enrich science and conservation.