Lessons on Cultural Leadership - Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) Undergraduate Leadership Program

APRU Group Shot
Association of Pacific Rim Universities 2018 Undergraduate Leadership Program - Group Photo

In July 2018, three UC Davis undergraduates packed their bags for Sydney to attend the Association of Pacific Rim Universities 2018 Undergraduate Leadership Program. Since 1997, the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) has linked knowledge, research power, and policy by connecting leading Asia-Pacific universities to real-world problem solvers.

Under the theme “Leadership for Good: Forging a Vision and Changing Lives for the Better,” the 10-day program hosted by the University of Sydney brought together nominated students from around the world to brainstorm solutions to issues affecting the Asia Pacific region.

Student Photo - Lauren Cabantac
Lauren Cabantac at APRU 2018 Undergraduate Leadership Conference

Lauren Cabantac, a psychology major, was one of the students selected to attend. Although she was a managerial economics major for her first two years at UC Davis, Cabantac says she was able to draw from the coursework of both majors during the Undergraduate Leadership Program (ULP) workshops. 

“A big part of leadership is trying to understand others’ perspectives,” she says. “At ULP, we focused a lot on cultural competency—that there is no one right way of thinking and acting in terms of leadership. It’s up to us to understand how people think, what they value and how that plays into their thinking, decision-making, and leadership style.”

Romae-Anne Aquino, a triple major in Spanish, political science, and international relations, hopes to become a foreign service officer, so ULP fit the bill for her career trajectory perfectly.

Global Aggies Photo - Anne Romae
Romae-Anne Aquino presenting on the gendered impact of climate change

“In international relations, we usually talk about cultural competence,” she says. “My track focuses on people—nationalities, anthropology, sociology—so that really helped me in coming up with diverse solutions for prompts related to the Asia Pacific region.”

The program culminated in the students separating into groups to collaborate on a poster relating to one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations.

For Joleen Cheah, a biological sciences major, Goldwater Scholarship winner and Beckman scholar, her group’s poster highlighted the rise of antimicrobial resistance, or the ability of a microbe to resist medication that was once effective.

Global Aggies Photo - Joleen Cheah
Joleen Cheah presenting on antimicrobial resistence 

Through her work at the UC Davis Yamada Lab, Cheah has been able to research how cells respond to mechanical forces during cancer progression and metastasis. “Because ULP emphasizes leadership skills applicable to all fields, as a biological sciences major I got to work with the humanities majors and discuss culturally competent leadership,” she says.

When it came time for Aquino’s group to decide on a topic, the decision was easy: climate change.

“We looked at the gender impact of climate change and natural disasters, as they disproportionality affect women and their access to resources like water and land,” she says.

Throughout ULP, Aquino’s international relations background came into play time and again. “I found myself taking a step back versus forward for critical thought,” she says. “I’m not accustomed to so many people with such different backgrounds, so the experience helped me focus on the bigger picture.”

When it comes to lessons on leadership, Cabantac says the program gave her insight into what it means to lead teams at both the individual and collective level.

“I loved learning about others’ leadership styles,” she says. “Coming from the U.S., we have a certain idea of what leadership looks like, but I found out quickly how this changes among cultures and backgrounds.”

Global Aggies Photo
Joleen Cheah in Sydney

For Cheah, the program gave her a new set of skills different from the research she’s been conducting in school. “This has made me a more well-rounded student and better candidate overall for when it’s time to apply to a Ph.D. program,” she says. After graduation, Cheah plans to pursue research into the molecular mechanisms of cell physiology in order to contribute to novel therapeutic approaches to diseases like cancer.

By the end of the program, Aquino’s realized her top takeaway was the people.

“I got a really good look at diplomacy and cross-cultural action,” she says. “It’s not just about working on policy when it comes to foreign affairs, you have to connect to people on a personal level. ULP gave me more self-awareness and helped foster connection to people outside of the ‘process.’ That was invaluable—learning how to connect to people in order to be truly diplomatic.”

About UC Davis Study Abroad

UC Davis Study Abroad integrates global opportunities into the academic experience, supporting 1,300 students each year in studying across 30 countries, exploring the world, and gaining valuable skills and competencies. In the quest for Global Education for All, Study Abroad goes beyond traditional programs to meet the academic, personal and professional needs of UC Davis’ diverse and driven student body.

As a part of Global Affairs at UC Davis, Study Abroad aims to inspire global curiosity, understanding, and engagement.