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A Legacy of Resilience: Angela Tsuei-Strause

May 02, 2024 By Queens University Communications

For more than a decade, Angela Tsuei-Strause has served as the executive director of Queens University’s Vandiver Center for Career Development (VCCD). Her leadership in crafting impactful career development programs, alongside her team, has empowered countless students and alumni to embark on meaningful professional journeys.

A native of Chappaqua, New York, Tsuei-Strause jokes that living in the Carolinas since 2013 almost qualifies her as being a “true Charlottean.” However, her story stretches far beyond her journey down the East Coast, reaching back nearly 8,000 miles to a small village in China.

Fleeing the turmoil of the Chinese Communist Revolution, her parents sought refuge in Taiwan. There, her father, Chang Tsuei, earned a degree from the National Taiwan University. After graduating, he received a scholarship to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Believing that education was the key to escaping poverty, local villagers pooled their money together to buy him a one-way ticket on a cargo ship to America. He taught himself basic English during the two-week trip and arrived with just a handful of dollars. Tsuei worked in addition to his studies and eventually secured enough money to bring his wife to California.

After obtaining a Ph.D. from Caltech, Tsuei secured a job across the country in New York. “My parents made tremendous sacrifices and saved everything they could to buy a house near my father’s new job. It was a small, up-and-coming company called IBM,” Tsuei-Strause explained, “And this is where my story truly begins.”

While her father worked, Tsuei-Strause’s determined mother, Holly Tsuei, watched American TV shows such as “All My Children” and “Sesame Street” to learn English. Her mother was motivated to find new ways to boost their income and they eventually saved enough to buy a rental property. “Taking care of the rental property became our way of life. My siblings and I tackled everything from cleaning and painting to scrubbing driveways,” Tsuei-Strause recalled. “Funds were extremely limited and we did everything we could to support our family.”

Tsuei-Strause continued to reflect on her childhood, “As an adolescent with few Asian role models in media, there was a strong desire to assimilate into American culture and this caused a lot of internal conflict for me,” she said. “How was I supposed to stay authentic to my Chinese culture and traditions while striving to fit into a predominately white neighborhood and society?”

It wasn’t until Tsuei-Strause attended Cornell University that she discovered the power of diversity in fostering a vibrant community. “I took Mandarin classes and, for the first time, engaged in discourse with others from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQIA+ backgrounds about shared sentiments of being ‘othered.’”

After graduating from Cornell with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Tsuei-Strause worked in the fashion industry. Eventually, she secured a leadership position in the career services department with the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York City where she was able to develop one of the first internship programs in the country. “Supporting students during this pivotal point in their lives ignited a passion in me I hadn’t known existed,” she said. “Guiding them toward careers that fueled their talents was incredibly meaningful.”

After eight years with Parsons, she moved to Charlotte and accepted a leadership position at Queens. She draws upon her life experiences to inspire her work within the VCCD. When asked how her experiences have shaped her, Tsuei-Strause sits quietly for a moment. “For many children of immigrants, it’s less common to have connections with influential professionals who can make key introductions that can potentially lead to coveted internships and jobs,” she said. “When I work with students who have faced similar challenges, I can relate to their struggles. I know for these students, it’s my job to help them build confidence in the workplace and give them the skills they need to develop professional networks. I remind them that they, too, deserve access to meaningful and rewarding careers.”

Under Tsuei-Strause’s guidance, the VCCD accomplishes this by creating programs designed to help students who identify as BIPOC and other identities navigate the varied dynamics of the workplace. “We facilitate meaningful discussions with students, alumni and professionals on the importance of allyship and being your authentic self,” said Tsuei-Strause. “I am motivated to incorporate these types of programming into our work because of my background and sensitivity to living the minority experience.”

Recently, Tsuei-Strause was asked to be the advisor of the newly resurrected Asian American Pacific Islander student group by student Tina Nguyen. “I’m excited to see first-year students assume new leadership roles and have enjoyed watching them grow. They’ve worked hard to plan events educating Queens students about the beauty and diversity of Asian American and Pacific Islander cultures,” said Tsuei-Strause. “They are doing meaningful work on campus and are creating spaces for important dialogues.”

When asked about this year’s AAPI Heritage Month theme, “Advancing Leaders Through Innovation,” Tsuei-Strause answered, “I’ve come to understand how diversity plays an important role in innovation. Bringing different backgrounds together and embracing your own authenticity fosters diversity of thought and, ultimately, creates an enriched workforce.”

Over the years, Tsuei-Strause has seen an incredible transformation in career services. “When I first started working in this industry nearly 20 years ago, participating in internships was a novelty. Today at Queens, completing an internship is a requirement – it’s really the new entry-level. We’re incredibly intentional in our work at the VCCD and it’s amazing to see how enthusiastic our students are in preparing for their futures,” said Tsuei-Strause.

Looking toward the future of career advancement, Tsuei-Strause emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning and adaptability. “Sharpening skillsets, pursuing continuous education, and embracing change are the cornerstones of navigating tomorrow’s professional landscape,” she advises. “With technology and industries evolving at rapid speeds, the team in the VCCD is equipped to provide our students with the tools they’ll need to succeed in the years to come.”