Dr. Ding-Jo Currie knows the value of an education.

It changed her life and made her the woman she is today, a successful leader of Asian descent, accomplished educator, lifelong learner and an advocate of higher education for more than 30 years.

“I want to thank those who have had a profound impact on me, helping and supporting me, and guiding me to who I came to be,” said Currie, a professor at California State University, Fullerton. “And those who have given me the opportunities, who believed in me and allowed me to stand on their shoulders, also to lean on, and also those who actually kicked me in my behind and encouraged my growth as a leader.”

She encourages young Asians to cast off old perceptions and stereotypes and take their rightful place as tomorrow’s new, strong and dynamic leaders in this country. 

“We’re facing a brand new, more exciting era in America” that embraces diversity and inclusion, said Currie at the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration in Irwindale hosted by Southern California Edison (SCE). “Please, break out of the stereotypes. Don’t believe the trait theorists that say you have to be made out of a certain mold. You have to have certain characteristics or features like be tall maybe, white maybe, male maybe, or be bold or combative to be leaders in this country. No. Those days as we know it now are yesterdays.”

“Celebrating Business & Community Partnership” was the theme for this year’s event, which showcased SCE’s appreciation of its business and community leaders, the communities it serves, and its investment and contribution to higher education through its Edison Scholars Program.

“At Southern California Edison, we value diversity because we know that when groups of people who come from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences join together, innovation and creativity is at its best — and that’s what we have at Southern California Edison,” said Lisa Cagnolatti, SCE vice president, Business Customer Division.

Asians have the highest education attainment and highest earnings of any ethnic group in the U.S., which Currie attributed, in part, to perhaps an Asian culture that possesses an inherent value in education. And yet despite all the progress and improvements that have been made, racial differences still exist.

On the other hand, Currie believes education is transformative and impactful, capable of lifting mankind to higher levels of discovery, consciousness, human development and potential. She points to her own humble beginnings as proof.

Born in Taiwan, Currie arrived in the U.S. to attend high school in Dayton, Ohio. She spoke no English, had no money, and found the new, foreign country’s culture strange. “A lot of things were alien to me in America,” she recalls.

Currie worked hard and through her education, exceled beyond her wildest dreams. She earned a B.S. in mathematics and psychology from Manchester College, a M.S. in counseling from Wright State University and a Ph.D. in international/intercultural education from USC. The lifelong educator served as president of Coastline Community College from 2002-2009 and retired from the Coast Community College District where she served as chancellor from 2009-2011. Prior to joining Coastline and the Coast District, Currie held the position of assistant superintendent/vice president of Economic and Community Development at Rio Hondo College in Whittier.

“Education in this country is of value,” she said.  “I continue to tell students that if you work hard, obtain a higher education, follow in the footsteps of those who have succeeded before you, you can make it. That is the absolute truth.”

Speaker Michael Eng shared a poignant story about growing up as a “throwaway kid” who was the “least likely to succeed” in school and in life.

But thanks to an attentive teacher who figured out Eng was dyslexic, and a village of supporters, he succeeded in graduating from high school, earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, a law degree, and now has his dream job as a member of the board of trustees, Los Angeles Community College District, the largest in the U.S. 

“Education is power,” he said.

Accepting SCE’s Energy Efficiency Participation Award was Frank Yang, CEO, and Aaron Yang, general manager, on behalf of Din Tai Fung USA. The business helps run restaurants in the United States. They upgraded their facility, switched to LED lighting, and saved on energy costs.

A second Energy Efficiency Participation Award was presented to Alan Yu, president and CEO, of Lollicup USA, Inc. The manufacturing operation moved from Taiwan to South California, creating 100 jobs, and subsequently received $30,000 in rebate trends from SCE as a result of lighting changes to LED.

Khmer Girls in Action was the recipient of SCE’s Community Partnership Award, which was accepted by Lian Cheun, executive director; Zoe Pruong-McCreery, operations manager; and Patricia Tin, KGA alumni.

Southern States LLC received SCE’s Diverse Business Enterprise Award, which was accepted by Raj Anand, president and CEO, and Armando Elvira, MKI representative.