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mentoring a grand scheme

By Zoë Nguyen Mézin ’97

Patty Hsue ’02 strides past two Japanese tourists sunbathing in San Francisco’s late summer sunshine and enters the Coffee Roastery. After the Chinese American cashier rings up her order, Patty plops down across from a Vietnamese American reporter and begins to recount her reasons for founding Reed’s peer mentor program for minority and first-generation college students in 2001.

Hsue was born in Houston and raised in San Francisco. But as a first-generation Chinese American growing up in one of the most diverse cities in the most diverse state in America, she never had to explain certain things. Like why she had to major in biology for her parents’ sake, why The Rocky Horror Picture Show was such an alien concept, and why lion dancers (not line dancers) would be a fun addition to campus events.

“Going to Portland was a huge culture shock,” she recalls. “It was like everyone at Reed was talking in a code I had never heard before.”

She felt she “didn’t belong” and considered transferring after one semester. But Reed’s intellectual “learning for the sake of learning” atmosphere beckoned. She stayed, vowing to overcome feelings of isolation.


Hsue began to ask questions. To her Humanities 110 professor: “Why do we focus on the Greeks?” To the staff: “Why is there such high attrition of minority students?” To herself: “What can I do to help?”

By her junior year, Hsue had emerged as a leader. An internship at the school’s Multicultural Resource Center and her persistent inquiries into minority enrollment would lay the groundwork for what she now refers to, with a chuckle, as “the grand scheme.”

The college poured its efforts into recruiting students of color but fell short, she believed, in retaining them. Entering freshman needed a support network. They needed to know they were not alone.

But without institutional and financial support from school officials, her ideas were nothing more than kindling.

Then came the spark.

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