AANHPI Youth Research Council

When Girls Leadership wanted to know how best to support Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) girls and gender-expansive youth, we knew that girls themselves would be the best people to tell us what they need. That’s why we created the Youth Research Council, a group of 17 AANHPI youth selected from more than 500 applicants who wanted to use the power of their voice for their communities. They have East Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander, and multiracial identities, come from suburban, rural, and urban communities across the U.S., and are passionate about telling their stories–and helping others do the same. 

The Youth Research Council embarked on a study to understand how AANHPI girls and gender-expansive youth define leadership, what leadership means to them, and what factors support or hinder their development as leaders. They conducted Institutional Review Board (IRB)-approved qualitative research, data analysis, and solution design, and after a year and a half of dedicated work, produced the first-ever national study of AANHPI girls and gender-expansive youth, reaching more than 2,300 youth participants and 500 teachers. 

Read more about each of our remarkable YRC members below:


Alice Pham (she/her/hers) graduated from Macalester College with a B.A. in Biology with a minor in Geography and a
concentration in Community and Global Health. Currently, she is working as a research assistant at Northwestern University in Chicago, IL, to further her research experience. As an AANHPI woman, she is passionate about using research to uplift historically marginalized communities. This study is the right step toward empowering the AANHPI community and its leadership, and she is excited to be part of it.

Arisha Choudhury (she/her/hers) is a high school senior from New York City. Right now, she’s pretty focused on school and college applications, as well as leading her school’s South Asian Student Association. She decided to join this study because its goal of helping AANHPI girls develop their leadership resonates a lot with her.


Aspen Dong (he/him/it) is a high school senior from New York City

Azra Bashir (she/her/hers) is a sophomore in high school from San Francisco, CA. Outside of school, she is involved in ballet and piano. She enjoys traveling and spending time in nature. Taking part in this study is important to her, as she believes that AANHPI representation in leadership and the media will greatly empower the future generation of AANHPI youth.


Jade Xu (she/her/hers) is from Michigan, and she is currently at Rice University pursuing a Health Sciences major. Aside from her interest in healthcare, she is greatly passionate about Asian advocacy. Growing up, Chinese culture has always played a huge role in her identity. Coming from a racially diverse high school, she has learned to embrace her Chinese identity and celebrate diversity. From firsthand experience, she’s realized diversity is critical due to its ability to dismantle stereotypes. Furthermore, she believes it’s important to foster diversity not only in the surrounding community but also in leadership roles. Statistically, Asian American women are significantly less likely to uphold leadership roles in various workplaces. This pattern has piqued her interest in researching the underlying reasons, such as the bamboo ceiling. She believes this study can bring more attention to these crucial matters, and she is excited to further explore her identity as
an Asian woman.

Kathleen Hoang (she/they), is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees and a first-generation, low-income college student, has always been a lifelong advocate and political organizer.

Originally from Houston, Texas, she is now studying human rights at Columbia University, with a specialization in military history and chemical/nuclear war. 

Formerly with OCA Greater Houston, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the Southeast Asian Freedom Network, and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, she hopes to pursue an international development career after graduating.

Leiana Talo Lepule (she/her/hers) is a Samoan and Filipina woman born and raised in San Diego, CA. Along with her father, mother, and younger brother, she resides in Chula Vista, CA, where she graduated from Olympian High School in 2017. She received her bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies from San Diego State University (SDSU) in May 2021, and she is currently in her last semester in SDSU’s Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential program. Through the credential program, she has been student-teaching in the San Diego Unified School District to expand her experience in the elementary classroom. Aside from her education, she is active in advocacy work for Asian, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander-American communities as a member in various organizations, including SDSU’s Pacific Islander Student Association and the County of San Diego Filipino-American Employees’ Association. Along with these two passions, Leiana enjoys going to live music events, boxing, and spending time at the beach. As a proud Asian and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander woman growing in her own leadership experiences, this study becomes important to her future pursuits in educating and uplifting all of our youth to the best of their own potential as leaders in their communities. To be able to participate in this study will support her growth as a leader and the growth of the future leaders in her classroom.

Lou Fei Cariello (she/he/they) is a freshman at the Ohio State University working towards a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Digital Art and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. She has been a member of the Bexley (OH) Anti-Racism Project’s Leadership board, a member of the Bexley Equitable Policing Coalition, and a member of the Youth Interaction Policy working with the Bexley mayor. While at Bexley High School, she presented a panel about students of color/LGBTQ2+ and how city council members can better support them with Honesty for Ohio Education. She organized a Chinese New Year’s Covid-19 friendly Celebration in 2022. Lou is currently working with OSU’s Chinese and Asian organizations. They are incredibly excited to meet new like-minded people who share the value of raising up and shining a light on BIPOC women in leadership.

Mariya Siddiqui (she/her/hers) is a current college freshman living in New York. This study is especially important to her because of the way it represents a brighter future. It is amazing to see the progress we have made these past few decades towards AANHPI leadership, but she still feels that there is a lot of work left to be done. The AANHPI Youth Research Council represents a community where she can use her experiences, whether they are positive or negative, to make a difference. This team represents change and breakthroughs, for our generation and the ones to come, and she is so excited to be a part of the council!

Momoca Mairaj (she/her/hers) is a freshman in college in Massachusetts and is working toward a major in English, and minors in Legal Studies and East Asian Studies. As a Japanese-Pakistani student from New York City, she is proud of being part of the AANHPI Youth Research Council both to drive actionable change in her communities and explore her own identity. She finds joy to be engaged with many sects her college community as an editorial assistant for the News Department of her student newspaper, secretary of the Japanese Student Association, and freshman representative of the Pre-Law Society. In her free time, she loves to explore different hobbies from ballroom dancing and pottery to crochet and writing poetry.

Mozelle Bertelsen (she/her/hers) is on a gap year after graduating high school in Montana and will be joining the University of British Columbia’s class of 2028 this coming fall to study environmental humanities. She is a third-generation Filipino American who enjoys all things outdoors such as skiing, climbing, and backpacking. Mozelle is passionate about diversity and inclusion within the outdoor community and how to make it more equitable and accessible to everyone. The study struck her interest because growing up, she never felt represented whether it was within the outdoor community, politics, or the media. She plans on using her position of privilege to tell her story and elevate other AANHPI voices to create positive and ethical change on both small and large scales. 

Nikita Jadhav (she/her/hers) is a high school student in San Diego, CA. She’s passionate about increasing equity, empathy, and inclusivity in the community around her. In her free time, she enjoys watching Grey’s Anatomy, reading, learning classical Indian dance (bharatnatyam), and exploring other cultures! This study is especially important to her, as it provides the unique opportunity to offer the support to AANHPI girls that previous generations may not have had — to be able to make generational, long-lasting change for the better.

Nomin R (she/her/hers) is currently a college sophomore from Virginia, studying computer science. When she’s not studying or working, she loves watching and discussing movies, reading historical fiction, and volunteering. Paralleling her love for volunteerism and service, Nomin became involved in this research because she wants to make a tangible difference in her communities. Whether treating a cold in a child or changing systems of upbringing in Asian girls, she wants to be an actor of positive structural change.

Ruksana Ruhee (she/her/hers) is a student at CUNY Bernard M. Baruch College majoring in Public Affairs. Ruksana is a young Muslim working-class Bengali woman who identifies as an empath because she gravitates to empathizing with what others are going through, and, noticing various issues going around in the world, understands the oppression that certain groups of people are facing merely because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, and many more. She also understands the struggles of growing up as a person of color in a working-class and immigrant family — Ruksana grew up in New York City, in the Bronx and Queens. Struggling daily to have her basic needs met, living paycheck to paycheck, and witnessing this similar situation in the neighborhood around her (financial insecurity, lack of access to healthcare, lack of mental health resources) propels her to fight for change for folks who are underserved. The experiences that Ruksana and people like her — undocumented folks, people of color, immigrants, and many more around her — encounter include a lot of barriers and difficulties navigating through daily life because of the way different institutions have set up obstacles that impede people from having a safe livelihood. This provokes her to speak up and stand against injustice. Ruksana loves to expand her knowledge about the world and the effects that different institutions have on people in society.

Her passions range across several disciplines, such as artwork (drawing and painting), organizing, praying, and writing. She loves to apply her love of writing and art to her healing. Ruksana has participated in various sisterhood circles, such as the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), and other youth advocacy programs like TORCH – National Institute for Reproductive Health, Youth Over Guns, and Seeking Safety. This study for AANHPI young women’s leadership is very important to Ruksana and her identity as a young Bengali Muslim. She hasn’t often heard about South Asian women’s representation growing up, and she’s always wanted to project to the world that many influential South Asian leaders look like her and have made a big difference in shaping the world. There’s so much history, voices, and lived experiences within our communities that Ruksana wants to uplift and give appreciation to!

Yehji Hwang (she/her/hers) is in her second year of high school. She is a second-generation Korean American living in Maryland. Nowadays, her hobbies are noodling around on the cello, commiserating over schoolwork, and reading and rereading books about silly people in interesting places. She joined this study because she firmly believes that her Asian American friends around the country are too amazing to be limited by systemic challenges. Her goal is to improve our institutions; she’s deeply invested in how we can use our research to work towards overcoming barriers and supporting the growth and dreams of Asian American youth. She wants to help create a world that roots for them.

Yingshan Chen (she/her/hers) is a Chinese Asian American living in Miami, FL. She is currently kickstarting various activities in school, aiding students with academic help and resources, and now starting a new chapter with this AANHPI research. This study is critical to her since she has been on the receiving end of hate from various groups and would like to do anything she can to minimize hate and discrimination toward both Asian Americans and women. This study will enable her to make a change in the world.


Zuhra Muzzafar (she/her/hers) is from New York, New York.

  1. Hannah F

    Hello! I was wondering if the AAPI Youth Research Council is currently accepting or plans to accept more members in the future.

    • Dorothy Ponton, Director of Marketing and Engagement

      Hi Hannah, the Youth Research Council is no longer accepting members, but thanks so much for asking! I’ve emailed you about other ways to be involved as the research report launches in a few months.

  2. Jaclyn

    Hello – I am interested in hearing more about the AAPI Youth Research Council and what they do. My younger daughter and I have done a couple of of the Girls Leadership courses at her school and one online during Covid. We had a good experience with your program so I thought I would reach out regarding my older daughter when I saw this on your website. She is currently a high school junior in Palo Alto, CA. She started a student let organization that raises awareness for teen mental health in the AAPI community earlier this year. She is very passionate about her cause and I thought this may be of interest to her to collaborate with like minded young women in the AAPI community. Thank you!

    • Dorothy Ponton, Director of Marketing and Engagement

      Thanks so much for reaching out! I’ll email you directly about next steps. One of the ways to support this project is to spread the word with 14-22 year olds about taking the survey. Plus we’re about to launch some new incentives on May 1st.


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