Jeremy Chu (he/him), an alum of Oregon State University and first-generation college student, graduated in 2018 with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. Jeremy is from Hillsboro, Oregon, and like many former students, he recalls being unsure about his career path. Having grown up without health insurance for most of his childhood and being a first-generation college student, health and education were always of interest to him. But, he still recognizes that college was an important stepping stone in a long journey of self-discovery, stating, “when I first made it to OSU, I was like many students: trying to build my identity and discover myself. I tried out every possible opportunity that came my way because I was interested in many things.”
Jeremy found his way to the Center for Civic Engagement, now known as Community Engagement & Leadership (CEL). In his first year at OSU, he participated in CEL’s Alternative Spring Break program that took him to San Francisco, CA, where he took part in service-learning projects to examine systemic causes of hunger and houselessness. The experience helped Jeremy discover the role of civic engagement and education in breaking down inequitable systems. Wanting to learn more, Jeremy returned to CEL to work as a student employee and eventually led the same Alternative Spring Break trip his senior year that he participated in during his first year at OSU. “It was the Alternative Spring Break trip with CEL that really changed my perspective on what it means to serve your community.”
Jeremy carried his passion for service after graduation to become a high school Physics teacher in a Title I school with Teach for America (TFA) in Houston, Texas. Being a teacher was a fulfilling experience for Jeremy. He highlights the joys of doing balloon chair labs, taking his students to iFLY and the Johnson Space Center, and hosting a STEM panel with engineers of color for his students. But just as rewarding of an experience as it was for him, it was equally as challenging. Besides working 60-hour weeks and navigating dysfunctional school systems, teaching allowed him to see how inequities were directly impacting his students. Jeremy noticed many of his students struggled with mental and physical health issues and lacked the ability to access health care. This lack of access impeded his students’ ability to focus on their education.
Jeremy believes in the idea that one cannot show up as their best self if one’s needs are not being met. He states, “I don’t think any aspect of a person's life can be looked at in isolation. If you have needs in your life that are not being met, you can’t possibly be available to be your best - to show up as your best professionally, in education, or in your personal life.” This is a lesson he learned while navigating depression in college. He found that prioritizing a healthy lifestyle was vital in taking care of his mental health and being able to show up as his best self for himself and others. Jeremy expressed being grateful for having the resources and social support to practice a healthy lifestyle, which includes healthy eating, regular exercise, and spending time with family and friends. But he understands that there may be barriers to living a healthy lifestyle, just as he saw with his students, who lacked access to health care.
Having recognized this, Jeremy decided to transition to education policy and advocacy to push for equitable education policies. He is currently advocating for equitable access to non-academic supports, such as mental health services, at the local-level with the Organizing Network for Education (ONE) Houston and at the state-level with The Education Trust in Texas.
By putting his values to work, Jeremy was able to identify his goals and aspirations, leading him towards a different path than he had planned. Jeremy furthers this point by reminding us and newly graduated undergraduate students that, “you’re the one that knows what’s best for you...there’s so much pressure on people to just go through their degrees right away, and then you come out, and you’re like, ‘I’ve been in school for so long and I still haven’t really had time to develop for myself and [learn] what I want to do.’ Grad school will still be there for you. Take a year or two off. You may be surprised how much you develop as a person and as a professional, and graduate schools will see that.”
Jeremy is now considering medical school as his next career path. He wants to become a family physician that serves low-income communities and advocates for equitable healthcare access. He is interested in working for a community health center because he believes that they can provide services to address social-related health factors, such as housing and food security, in addition to healthcare. Jeremy states, “I visited community health centers for doctor visits as a child when we did not have health insurance. I know how important these centers can be to communities.” Jeremy continues to push for equity within the intersections of health and education.
Throughout all of these life-altering decisions and opportunities, Jeremy was also on the path to understanding himself better - where his abilities lie, and the values, passions, and identities that were most salient to him. Grappling with what every human does on this planet: where do I fit in? As a Chinese American, Jeremy had his own assumptions about his identity and what it meant to be Asian American, but when he started teaching with Teach for America, again his perspective shifted. Jeremy shares that this change in cultural recognition was due to his students, stating,“I found that by celebrating my students' cultures and identities, along with my own, we created more empathy and community in the classroom. I find it necessary to be an ally for Black and Brown communities, while also uplifting underrepresented Asian Americans. I hope to be a role model rewriting the narrative of what people think of Asian American men.”
With a newfound sense of cultural competency through affirmation, validation, and empowerment, Jeremy’s path of self-discovery incited his desire to reach a broader audience and deepen his impact. By harnessing the perspectives and knowledge he gained during his time at CEL and TFA, he is now putting his values to work within the intersections of health and education. Along his winding path to this point, Jeremy has lived by the quote: "When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be" (Lao Tzu). Although Jeremy’s path forward may appear to be concrete now, he remains open to new opportunities for growth, as he reminds us to rethink what it means to take care of ourselves while following our passions so we can become what we might be.