Fall Commencement student speaker Jacob Lau is ‘Prepared for Impact’

Jacob is the featured student speaker at 9:30 a.m. commencement ceremony on Saturday, December 17, 2022.

-Story by Michael Shaw, University of Wisconsin Green Bay writer

Gone are the days when “hip” just meant being cool. In current university vernacular, “HIP” also stands for “high impact practices”—opportunities and programs designed to increase student engagement and successful learning. And in the case of Jacob Lau, there’s a compelling case for crowning him the “HIPpest Phoenix of all.”

True, the personal qualities for earning such a title are largely subjective, but as Ekaterina Levintova, professor of Political Science and Global Studies, observed in her assessment of Lau’s accomplishments— “How many students on campus had their education at UW-Green Bay completely infused with HIPs and how many gave so much back to campus while doing it?” And if quantity of practices is any measure—it might be no contest.

Lau’s HIP list is impressive and includes everything from tutoring to volunteering at an animal shelter to undergrad research. (The full list is included below.) What makes these achievements even more impressive is Lau’s confession that, “I was undecided what to do my first couple of years, bouncing between majors. I was kind of into social work, democracy and justice and economics.”

And even before that, as a high school student from Salem, Wisconsin, another surprising admission, “I was looking at colleges, I actually didn’t know Green Bay had a university. So, my parents said, as long as we’re heading north, why not check out Green Bay as well?” While the “three T’s” (Trees, Toilets and Tunnels) are legendary for attracting students, another “T” (time) convinced Lau to join the Phoenix. “Mainly my goal was to be more than an hour-and-a-half away from home and out on my own.”

Plus, add one more “T”—transformation. “I wanted to reinvent myself. I wasn’t really the greatest student in high school. I wanted to fall in with a great group of people to keep me motivated.” Motivation, it turns out, was a lot easier for Lau once he discovered what to be motivated about. “My first couple of semesters I was more of a recluse in my dorm, just concentrated on my studies and not very active as a student.”

Turns out it took a HIP, (The Civic Scholars Leadership Program and #7 on the list) to bring Lau out of his shell and led him to major in public administration. The program was launched during the 2019-2020 academic year and designed to prepare sophomore students to become civic professionals, citizen leaders and in Lau’s case, pursue a service-based career.

The program itself takes two semesters, Lau explains. “In the first semester, we bring students into Green Bay to meet with community partners (that range from museums to the mayor’s office.) And in the second semester, students get an internship with one of those community partners.” By “we,” Lau is referring to taking HIP to the next level, creating his own job by applying for, and now serving, as an AmeriCorps VISTA fellow employed by The Center for Civic Engagement working with the newest class of Civic Scholars. His relationship with Professors Levintova and David Coury has evolved from student/teacher to colleague. “They (including Ashley Heath, the program manager) consider me their coworker. My input is just as valued as everybody else’s.”

Lau also hopes to rekindle their academic relationship by enrolling in the new Master of Public Administration program this spring and, if possible, stay in Green Bay. As far as professional aspirations? “When I think about a career, I don’t want to think about just a paycheck. I want to feel good about the work I do.” Professor Levintova, for one, already feels good about the work he’s done. “Jacob is the epitome of somebody who not only charts a very challenging but rewarding path for himself, but also gives so much back to the very programs which benefitted him.”

He’s also proven, that when it comes to making a high impact, practice makes perfect.

Jacob Lau’s “Greatest HIPS”

  • Tutoring and mentoring with TRIO/Upward Bound
  • Service Learning by volunteering for Happily Ever After no-kill animal shelter
  • Completing Emerging Leaders Experience
  • Peer Mentoring for Gateway to Phoenix Success program (after completing GPS himself)
  • Participating in undergraduate research for Political Science research lab
  • Mentoring high school students for equity and inclusion
  • Completing UW-Green Bay’s first ever Civics Scholars Program
  • Interning for Green Bay City Hall (Planning and Zoning Department)
  • Interning for Greater Green Bay Chamber of Commerce (Legislative Department)
  • Participating in Study Abroad (Ecuador trip with Prof. Marcelo Cruz)
  • Presenting original research at UW-Green Bay Academic Excellence Symposium

Story by Michael Shaw, University of Wisconsin Green Bay writer

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