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Q&A with Jiashen You: A love for numbers and patterns

Jiashen You received his bachelor of science degrees in math and computer science from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He then went to UCLA for his MA in Mathematics and PhD in Statitics. He is now the director of the Information Data Access Division at Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington D.C.

We asked Jiashen a few questions about his time at UH, his career path and what he loves most about his work.

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and what are you doing now?

I was born and raised in Shanghai, China. I came to Hawai‘i to unite with family in 1999 and started post-secondary education at Honolulu Community College. After graduating from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa with degrees in mathematics and information and computer science and becoming the first person in the family completing college, I went to graduate school at UCLA and received a Ph.D. in Statistics. I started working for the federal government as a researcher at U.S. Census Bureau. I am still a full-time statistician today, while also managing a division at U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2020, I launched the agency’s first public interactive data mapping and query tool and built an enterprise-wide data warehouse.

What’s one of your fondest memories of your time at UH?

There are a few. My favorite hideout place was the portable structure between Bilger Hall and Physical Science Building. I used to go there to do some quiet reading before walking to the adjacent Keller Hall to start math tutoring as part of my work study assignment. As an introvert, I enjoyed getting coffee from campus center and sitting on the stairs watching activities like student club recruitment, farmers market, or simply people getting in and out of lecture halls. In 2006, I returned to teach a summer course after receiving my Master’s degree and loved the read-teach-workout-beach daily routine.

How has your UH education helped you in your career?

In an enormous way. I was extremely lucky to have met some of the most knowledgeable and kind professors who are passionate about their research and teaching. Prof. Edward Bertram (retired) from the math department introduced me to NSF-funded undergraduate research programs which led to three full summers of enriching experience at top-tier universities, while getting paid. With a bit of effort, I was admitted to Ph.D. programs with a scholarship to all of them that paved the way for my transitioning into a full-time career. Several other professors like George Wilkens, Karl Dovermann, Thomas Ramsey (retired), J.B. Nation (retired) and HCC professors Sam Rhoads (retired), Alice Bertram (retired), and Chiping Zhou (retired) all gave me valuable advice on not just being a better knowledge-seeker, but a better person.

Describe your career path. How did you end up doing the work you’re doing today?

I have always had a keen interest in numbers and patterns. The decision to double major at UH prepared me well for graduate school as I was sought-after to TA for computer science courses and summer internship as a machine-learning software engineer. My career trajectory in the federal government is fairly typical – keep doing a good job and more opportunities will open their doors to you. I have enjoyed the learning opportunities in areas such as transportation statistics, decennial census, immigration statistics, and vulnerable population and appreciated many friends I have made along the way through working together.

What do you love most about your work?

The ability to answer the call to public service. While private sector may celebrate a “do-no-evil” motto, our federal government inherently is a “do-good-all-the-time” entity. Career employees are held to the highest ethical and moral standards and it is a humbling and rewarding experience working with these professionals to deliver services to the public.

Related to my work, I have several exciting volunteer roles such as the connection to the American Statistical Association as the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Committee to support research on statistical issues with this community and promote equal opportunity in employment and education for all statisticians. Another role that I am passionate about is to promote AAPI leadership within the federal government as I volunteer for affinity groups such as Asian American Government Executive Network.

What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your work? The most challenging?

Currently, my most rewarding aspects for the job are the ability to design, create, and implement modern data-driven solutions to tackle challenges federal government faces and allow it to make evidence-based policy decisions, and to do it with a supportive team of professional staff who are dedicated to the mission.

One challenge (as well as opportunity) in this line of work is the hiring and retention of best qualified staff. Strictly following instructions on application documents sometimes is a tall order for free-spirited college students. But as we transition to a more digital and virtual way of life, the federal government could use more diverse talents to accelerate its innovation effort.

What advice would you give students who are considering taking a similar career path as yours?

Find a mentor – there are many excellent professors and staff at UH that genuinely care about your growth and wellbeing. Being respectful and a good listener can do wonders to your career. Also, it is okay if you do not quite know what your career should be while in college or graduate school. But be intentional to the task in front of you so that you do not have regrets later.

University of Hawai‘i Alumni