May is Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi and Asian American Heritage Month. Throughout the month, The Daily will highlight members of the university community who are of Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi and Asian American heritage to celebrate their accomplishments as members of the campus community and shed light on their experiences at CWRU.

When Wayne Wong (CWR ’89) attended Case Western Reserve University in the 80s, it wasn’t his first time in Cleveland—he’s had a lifelong relationship with the city. After moving from Hong Kong at a young age, Wong was raised in Cleveland’s AsiaTown neighborhood, ultimately choosing to enroll at CWRU before beginning his work at the NASA Glenn Research Center nearby. 

As chief of NASA’s thermal energy conversion branch, Wong works to help develop power systems to fuel some of NASA’s most challenging missions. These missions involve locations where solar energy can’t be used, or as Wong likes to describe them: “dark, distant or dusty locations.”

Looking back on his time at CWRU, Wong views his experience as a microcosm of the work he’s currently doing today—both professionally and within the Cleveland community.

As an undergraduate, Wong was involved in the Asian American Alliance student organization on campus. Decades later, he now serves as vice president of administration for the Greater Cleveland chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) – Asian Pacific American Advocates—an organization dedicated to civic engagement, social justice and cultural outreach for the diverse Asian community in Northeast Ohio.

“My ethnic identity is something that I cherish and am very proud of,” said Wong. “My involvement with these organizations is ultimately because I’m invested in seeing the growth and continued vitality of this community. Whether we’re organizing a celebration or organizing in a time of need, it’s great to be able to come together.”

Through his work with OCA, Wong is also involved with the Cleveland Asian Festival—an annual event held in Cleveland’s AsiaTown neighborhood each May as part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The festival, held virtually last weekend, typically draws more than 40,000 people to experience Asian culture in Northeast Ohio. Wong has been involved with the festival since its inception in 2010, and currently serves as part of the executive committee and chair of the performance committee.

“I’m very proud to have been part of the Cleveland Asian Festival since it’s beginning,” said Wong. “The participation we have every year shows that there is a huge interest in enjoying the culture. I like to say: it’s difficult for people to travel throughout Asia, so we bring all of Asia to AsiaTown one weekend out of the year.”

Having grown up in AsiaTown, Wong is excited to see the development happening in the area over the last 20 years, and cherishes his role in helping highlight the culture and draw attention to local businesses through OCA.

“I’m happy to support AsiaTown and Cleveland’s Asian community in any way I can,” said Wong. “Whether it’s the Cleveland Asian Festival, or some of the outreach and activities that we promote through OCA, these are all opportunities to reach out to the wider Greater Cleveland community to show that we’re part of America, but we come with a different background and a different point of view—let’s enjoy this together.”