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Unifying senior receives Leadership in Action Award

"I

started my journey as a nervous high school kid on the other side of the world,” said Johnnie “Junior” Cheng, recalling the first time he e-mailed a Purdue student ambassador. “I remember being scared, thinking this older college student must be the real deal.”

Cheng was considering animal sciences programs in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. All were far from his home in Taipei, Taiwan.

“When I received his reply the next morning, I was amazed by the depth of his answers. There was so much energy in the way he wrote about the College of Agriculture. I was invigorated just by reading them because I could feel the passion bleeding from my iPhone screen. I needed to have what he was having.”

Cheng was quick to adopt similar enthusiasm for Purdue. “That student inspired me to reach out and give back, so I applied to the Animal Sciences Ambassadors program my freshman year. I wanted to be a similar, enthusiastic resource for prospective students and their families.”

Cheng joined as many organizations as he could through the Asian Student Union Board. “I was that one ambitious, extroverted freshman dancing from club to club. Any given day I had three or four meetings after school.” Cheng rose to leadership roles in many over the next four years.

Cheng’s widespread involvement led to his receipt of the 2021 France A. Córdova Leadership in Action Award. The annual award is presented to two students who have shown outstanding leadership abilities, demonstrated by successfully holding significant leadership roles and by working in partnership with faculty or staff to move Purdue forward.

Cheng was quick to adopt similar enthusiasm for Purdue. “That student inspired me to reach out and give back, so I applied to the Animal Sciences Ambassadors program my freshman year. I wanted to be a similar, enthusiastic resource for prospective students and their families.”

Cheng joined as many organizations as he could through the Asian Student Union Board. “I was that one ambitious, extroverted freshman dancing from club to club. Any given day I had three or four meetings after school.” Cheng rose to leadership roles in many over the next four years.

Cheng’s widespread involvement led to his receipt of the 2021 France A. Córdova Leadership in Action Award. The annual award is presented to two students who have shown outstanding leadership abilities, demonstrated by successfully holding significant leadership roles and by working in partnership with faculty or staff to move Purdue forward.

agweekbunny-scaled1.jpg
Cheng holds a rabbit on campus during Purdue
Ag Week 2018.

“When I came to Purdue, I loved my classes, fellow peers, and friends in animal sciences, but I wanted to explore other facets of Purdue through the clubs I joined,” Cheng explained. “I found a home in the Asian and Asian American student community on campus. I joined the Asian American Association and the Taiwanese Student Association but I didn’t limit myself to just my ethnic background. I met with the Vietnamese, Japanese and Filipino Student Associations, as well as VariAsian.”

Through his widespread involvement, Cheng realized the interaction between members of different groups was limited.

“I knew if I joined the organizations’ boards and created collaborative events, lots of new friendships and networks could be built.”

Cheng’s leadership extends to his undergraduate research where he studies the microbiology of food animals.

“Junior has a very friendly and uplifting personality which helps his fellow students to trust and rely on him,” said Tim Johnson, professor of animal sciences. “He has become proficient in many lab procedures and has trained other undergraduate and graduate students in these procedures. He is eager to share his knowledge to help others.”

Cheng said the people he has met at Purdue motivate his leadership in organizations and enthusiasm for building relationships. “I want to give back and improve the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American community. As minorities on campus, we have to stand unified in our voice. Especially with the current geopolitical climate in the United States.”

Among Cheng’s most significant accomplishments is the founding of Purdue’s Kappa Pi Beta Fraternity Inc. chapter. Recognizing a gap in opportunities for Asian men to receive mentoring as leaders on campus, Cheng and a small group of peers brought the Asian interest fraternity to campus. The organization is now actively involved with the Purdue community and collaborates with the Asian American and Asian Resource and Cultural Center.

 

Cheng as the recipient of the France A. Córdova Leadership in Action Award A surprise ceremony to announce Cheng as the recipient of the France A. Córdova Leadership in Action Award (Photo by Tom Campbell)

“We had an abundance of student leadership experience, specifically a lot of failures. We wanted to create an organization that builds leaders, passing those lessons to the new generation so they don’t run into the same problems we faced.”  Those new leaders are now slated to fill Cheng’s shoes.

“Graduating this week is bittersweet. I’m confident in my legacy and the next generation of leaders I helped mentor. I’m excited to see what they do. That being said, there is part of me that’s not quite ready to leave West Lafayette. That’s why I recently submitted my application to graduate school at Purdue.”

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