Home Most Influential Wisconsin’s 38 Most Influential Asian American Leaders for 2024

Wisconsin’s 38 Most Influential Asian American Leaders for 2024

0

Just months after we published our first news stories in August 2015, we tried something new: we listed and published brief biographies of the state’s 28 Most Influential Black Leaders. People really liked it, shared it on social media, told us who else should have been on that list. Many asked me if we’d do another list the next year; I said yes, we probably would.

We did more than that. That next year, we published another list of the state’s most influential Black leaders, as well as a list of the state’s most influential Latino leaders. Almost immediately, we started hearing an important and very reasonable question: what about the state’s Asian American and Indigenous leaders?

We wanted to do those lists, but we wanted to do them right. It took us some time to build the authentic relationships within those communities, and to gain their trust. I’m glad and proud that we took that time and did that work; it resulted in us publishing those lists for the first time in 2020.

This week we are proud to present the fifth annual edition of Wisconsin’s Most Influential Asian American leaders.

Every year, with every list, I’ve intended these lists to highlight the beauty of the diversity across our state. I want kids here in Wisconsin to see role models of people who are succeeding, to know that it’s possible for people of color to achieve great things here.

This week we shine a statewide spotlight on the dedicated leaders of Wisconsin’s Asian American communities. The people we highlight this week are elected leaders, business leaders and community leaders, doing difficult, important work, often in the face of discrimination and literally generations of oppression.

We are also aware that this list, like every other, is not comprehensive. It’s obvious just from the number of nominations that there are far more than 38 influential Asian American leaders doing good work in Wisconsin. We hope you will let us know about people in your community who we can include on future lists. For now, though, we just want to introduce you to a few of the people doing the work, often behind the scenes and without the accolades, across Wisconsin.

You might know a few of these names, but there’s a good chance that most of them will be new to you. I urge you to get to know them. Reach out to those living and working in your communities. Learn from them, network, create partnerships. And spread the word — let others in your network know that we have people of all ethnicities living and working across Wisconsin to make sure everyone here can thrive.

Henry Sanders
CEO, 365 Media Foundation
Publisher, Madison365

Maria Ahmad Douglas

Maria Ahmad Douglas is founder of Forward/Together Progressively, her own form where she provides consulting on diversity, equity and inclusion; nonprofit management and fundraising; and similar topics. She spent several years in politics as a local campaign manager and field organizer, including a year as a national fundraising consultant for #iVoted and a year as DEI senior specialist with the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. She moved into politics after more than 15 years working as a school psychologist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Gordon College and a master’s from the University of Texas at Tyler.

Stacey J. Lee

Stacey J. Lee is the Frederick Erickson WARF Professor of Educational Policy Studies and a faculty affiliate in Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on the role of education in the incorporation of immigrants and migrants into the US. She is the author of Unraveling the Model Minority Stereotype: Listening to Asian American Youth and Up Against Whiteness: Race, School and Immigrant Youth, and Resisting Asian American Invisibility: The Politics of Race and Education. She was honored with a Distinguished Scholar award from the American Educational Research Association in 2016 and the Vilas Mid-Career Investigator award from the University of Wisconsin in 2015 and 2016. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College and a master’s degree from NYU, both in political science, and a PhD in anthropology of education from the University of Pennsylvania.

Brian Lee

Brian Lee is founder and president of Revelation PR, founded in 2011, and Revelation Events, launched in 2019. He is also co-founder of TryaTaste, which curates tasting boxes for small events and parties, and editor-in-chief of MadisonStartups.com, which publishes news about Madison’s entrepreneurial scene. He is also an instructor of social media and entrepreneur in residence at Madison College. He has been named to InBusiness Magazine’s “40 Under 40” list and as PRSA-Madison’s Communicator of the Year, while Revelation has earned a Dane County Small Business Award. He earned a bachelor’s degree in strategic communications from UW-Madison and an MBA from Sam Houston State.

Boly Vang

Boly Vang is a human resources analyst for Marathon County and CEO/Owner of Paint Party B, LLC, where she organizes “paint and sip” parties around the Wausau area. She joined the staff at Marathon County to support its more than 750 employees after several years in HR at Capstone Logistics and Crystal Finishing Systems. She currently serves on the executive board of Central Wisconsin Hmong Professionals, served four years on the Women United Council of the United Way of Marathon County, and volunteered for four years as a classroom facilitator of the education nonprofit LENA Start Marathon County. She earned her degree in human resources management at UW-Oshkosh.

Yee Lee Vue

Yee Lee Vue is Adult Services & Engagement Librarian at the Appleton Public Library and co-owner of restaurants Little Siam and Bowl Ninety-One with husband Thong Vue. She serves on the Rhythms of the World event committee, Dragon Boat Festival event committee and WWBIC Ambassadorial Committee. She was named the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce Young Professional of the Year in 2022. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the UW-Madison.

Kevin Wong

Kevin Wong is program coordinator for the Asian Pacific Islander and Desi American (AAPIDA) Student Center at the UW-Madison, which hosts academic, professional, and social programs throughout the year to enhance the student experience, support student success, and foster a sense of belonging for students from a wide variety of backgrounds. He took on this role after working more than 10 years in progressively responsible roles at the UW Survey Center. He is president of the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s APIDA Affinity Group and volunteered for three years on the Summit Credit Union Member Experience Advisory Committee. He earned his degree in political science at UW-Madison in 2015.

Thong Xiong

Thong Xiong is Scholars for Success Coordinator at Fox Valley Technical College, where he focuses on the retention and persistence of at-risk, low-income, multicultural students as well as other students who are part of marginalized populations. A Marine veteran, he started his academic career at FVTC before going on to earn a bachelor’s degree at UW-Green Bay and a master’s degree in from Lakeland University, both in organizational leadership.

Ze Yang

Ze Yang is the Hmong Bilingual Community Connector in the City of Madison Department of Civil Rights, Social Justice and Equity Division. She is a small business owner and also a member of the Summer News Collaborative Program at WORT Madison. She served on the Wisconsin Women Council for four years as the Governor’s Designee.  She earned a degree in education from Edgewood College.

Dr. Wajiha Akhtar-Khaleel

Dr. Wajiha Akhtar-Khaleel is the assistant director of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which drives statewide health equity initiatives throughout Wisconsin. She also directs of the Wisconsin Population Health Service Fellowship, two-year service and training program designed for early career individuals in public health and allied sciences. She joined the UWPHI in 2021 after several years directing what is now called, Thrive4LifeWi Study at UW, which sought to understand the infectious disease consequences of injection drug use in rural communities in Wisconsin. She has served on several boards, including One City Schools and HEART Women and Girls. As a Muslim American, Dr. Akhtar works with other Muslim faculty, staff, and students at UW-Madison to build and amplify their collective voice. She earned an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Miami and a Masters of Public Health and PhD, both in epidemiology, from the University of Florida.

 

 

 

Dr. Sonal Chandratre

Dr. Sonal Chandratre is the Chief Medical Officer at Ascension St Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton and Ascension Calumet Hospital in Chilton. Throughout her leadership roles, she has prioritized patient safety and quality healthcare and has been a strong advocate for associate wellness. She is a board-certified Pediatric Endocrinologist, trained to care for children with diabetes, endocrine and metabolic disorders, and a Certified Physician Executive from the American Association For Physician Leadership. She has earned the Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality certification, the only nationally accredited certification in healthcare quality. She is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Pediatric Endocrinology and has been the founding director and educator for various courses at the Medical College of Wisconsin. She was awarded the coveted “ MCW Outstanding Medical Student Teacher Pin” teaching award for three consecutive years for her excellence in medical student education. She was also recognized with the “MCW Faculty Academic Excellence Award” for her contributions. She was awarded the Kern Institute Grant for her pipeline project for the underrepresented medicine trainees to increase their scholarly activities and publications in recognized journals. To support scholarly activity for trainees and faculty, she also authored a book titled “How To Get Published Without Doing Research” that is used by researchers from various disciplines for increasing their publications and progressing their careers. She has herself published several papers in peer-reviewed journals on pediatric endocrinology, medical education and healthcare. In 2022-23, she worked to achieve the healthy weight target in children within the Stevens Point area. She authored a kid-friendly, interactive, illustrated children’s picture book titled “Kids, C’mon Let’s Get Healthy! A complete kid’s guide to a healthy lifestyle” for children to help bring awareness about healthy lifestyle that received a positive response from children, families and fellow pediatricians including a special recognition from the American Board of Pediatrics. With grant support, she distributed 1,000 free copies to children in and around Stevens Point, and multiple hospitals and clinics around the United States are using this children’s book to educate children on healthy lifestyle in their communities. She is a familiar face to Wisconsinites through her media work in more than 50 newspapers, radio and television interviews bringing in awareness about current developments in healthcare. She is an invited national-level speaker on health, wellness, leadership, meditation and mindfulness with a special focus on empowering women at the level of mind, body and soul. She has also contributed to community health education programs and events through her mindfulness and meditation workshops as an invited speaker at high impact organization events including American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women in 2024. She has served on the American Board of Pediatrics committee, the only pediatrician invited from Wisconsin. She serves as a board member for Wisconsin Medical Society advocating for Wisconsin patients and healthcare professionals and also serves as the board member for the Mosaic Residency Program in Fox Valley supporting the training for Family Medicine residents within Wisconsin. She earned an M.D. in Pediatrics from Albert-Einstein University in New York and a D.C.H and M.R.C.P.C.H degree in Pediatrics and Child Health from the Royal College of Pediatrics & Child Health in London, UK.

Holly Chen

Holly Chen is a bilingual community connector for the City of Madison’s Department of Civil Rights, a role she took when it was first created in 2023. She joined the department of Civil Rights in early March 2020 and was responsible for the majority of the Chinese translations for the City of Madison. Chen was born in China and her family moved to Madison when she was 8. She also works as a freelance translator and holds a BA in English from UW-Whitewater.

Vivek Ramakrishnan

Vivek Ramakrishnan is cofounder and Co-CEO of Project Read AI, which uses artificial intelligence and the science of reading to teach young children how to read. He launched the company in January 2023 with support from a Stanford Impact Founder Fellowship. He was also cofounder and director of operations and strategy at One City Schools, an independent charter school in Madison. He earned a degree in economics from Columbia and an MBA at Stanford.

Danny Tang

Danny Tang is a shareholder and real estate attorney at Godfrey Kahn. He helps guide clients through acquisitions and dispositions of various types of commercial property across the United States, including, real property used for manufacturing and office purposes, commercial leasing transactions, commercial real estate financing transactions, and land-use and easement issues. Additionally, he has worked closely with Godfrey & Kahn’s Environmental Practice Group in connection with the acquisition and disposition of environmentally-impacted real property. He graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and went on to the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Robia Vang

Robia Vang is the Communication and Engagement Strategist at Brown County United Way, where she has been serving since October 2023. She is a part of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leadership Committee at the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation and is a member of the marketing committee for the Greater Green Bay Blueprint To Prevent And End Homelessness. Originally from Fresno, California, Robia made her way to Wisconsin in 2020 after working as an esteemed venue manager and event coordinator for a local winery. She holds an undergraduate degree in Recreation Administration with an emphasis on Event Planning from California State University, Fresno.

Anna Yang

Anna Yang is founder of Xee Group, a real estate services company in Green Bay, providing logistical and promotional support to realtors in the region. She launched the business in 2021 in honor of her late mother, with the intention of funding the Xee Foundation to support Northeast Wisconsin’s Hmong community. She got her start in real estate as a front desk temp in 2019, landing a full-time job at Keller Williams within two weeks. She earned a degree in business administration with a marketing emphasis from UW-Green Bay.

Kristy Kumar

Kristy Kumar is Equity and Social Justice Division Manager at the City of Madison’s Department of Civil Rights. She came to Madison in 2021 after two and a half years as assistant director for co-curricular initiatives at Brown University and a year as assistant director of educational programming at Colorado State’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center. She served a Fulright Scholarship in Malaysia in 2013. She served as co-chair of the social action team at Old Cambridge Baptist Church and a member of the executive board of the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking.

Dr. Catherine Chan

Dr. Catherine Chan is the assistant vice provost for high impact practices in the Division of Diversity, Equity & Educational Achievement at UW-Madison, where she provides administrative, operational, and strategic leadership for the DDEEA’s high-impact educational efforts. Chan leads the development, cultivation and implementation of the division’s framework for enhancing student experiences through high-impact educational practice programs and initiatives, including common intellectual experiences, undergraduate research, global learning, service and community-based learning, internships, and student employment. Chan oversees the division’s Academic Coaching to Thrive and Succeed, Center for Educational Opportunity, Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, Education and Wellbeing, and experiential learning programs that include Global Scholars, Internship, and STEM Initiatives. Before joining UW–Madison in June 2022, Chan was a professor of biology and executive director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at UW–Eau Claire, where she worked to design, implement and improve equity-minded academic programs and high-impact educational practices. She earned her bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology from UW–Madison.

 

Susan Tran Degrand

Susan Tran Degrand currently serves as the Director for Equity, Inclusion & Employee Well-Being for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Office of Human Resources. Susan provides leadership, strategic vision and consultation for schools, colleges, divisions, and departments on campus as they work to support their employees through an equitable, and human-centered lens. Susan earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Community and Nonprofit Leadership and a certificate in Gender and Women Studies. In 2012, she earned her Master in Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis with an emphasis in higher education and has since worked in higher education for nearly 14 years and has diverse experiences across functional, institutional areas supporting individual, programmatic, and systems-level approaches to embedding and operationalizing equity, diversity, and inclusion. 

Saran Ouk

Saran Ouk is manager of the Office of Business Resources for the City of Madison, where she helps businesses locate, open and expand within the City of Madison. She and her staff guide businesses through permitting and approval processes, direct businesses toward financial and technical assistance programs, and provide other support services. Before taking on that role, she worked in the City’s Department of Civil Rights as a contract compliance specialist. She is also founder of conNEXTions, a nonprofit organization that guides underrepresented young adults from the Madison community to achieve their financial, educational and career goals through mentoring, networking and professional development. She earned a degree in nonprofit management at the UW-Madison.

Dr. Sawa Senzaki

Dr. Sawa Senzaki is a Professor of Psychology, Associate Dean of the College of the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, and the director of the Children’s Learning and Developmental Science (CHILD’S) Lab at UW-Green Bay. Dr. Senzaki has been a strong advocate for undergraduate research, supervising over 100 students since 2013. In the CHILD’S Lab, Dr. Senzaki and her students conduct cross-cultural research with international collaborators and collect neurophysiological data, such as brain activities, eye movements, and heart rates. She is also actively involved in the community, working with organizations such as United Way, Literacy Green Bay, and Achieve Brown County. Her achievements include receiving an NIH AREA grant, an Invitational Research Fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, a UWGB Founders Award for Excellence in Scholarship, a UWGB Student Nominated Teaching Award, and the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce Future 15 Young Professional Award.

Irene Strohbeen

Irene Strohbeen is owner of Irene Strohbeen and Associates, which provides consultation in innovation, new business development, and new product management. Clients have included Illinois Tool Works/Miller Electric, Central Garden and Pet, Kinnektor entrepreneur support organization, plus several individual inventors. She is also Entrepreneur in Residence at Lawrence University, where she serves as adjunct professor, mentor and coach to student teams in the introductory Innovation and Entrepreneurship course, culminating in a “investor pitch” for each team. She previously taught as adjunct faculty at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. She earned a degree in mathematics and chemistry from Lawrence and master’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Dr. Ryan Tsuchida

Dr. Ryan Tsuchida is Assistant Dean for Multicultural Affairs for Health Professions Learners and an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. He is also Co-Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. Dr. Tsuchida also currently serves as a faculty mentor to underrepresented medical students through the Building Equitable Access to Mentorship (BEAM) initiative at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. He is the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Arno Kumagai Award for Excellence in Institutional Change to Promote Health Equity, Social Justice and Compassionate Care awarded by the University of Michigan Student Diversity Council. He also is the recipient of the 2021 Outstanding Future Academician Award, Academy for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Medicine (ADIEM)—an SAEM Academy—and currently holds the elected position of Secretary-Treasurer. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychobiology from the University of California, Los Angeles, his medical degree from the University of Michigan, and completed his emergency medicine residency at the University of Michigan where he served as chief resident.

Sheng Lee Yang

Sheng Lee Yang is executive director of Us 2 Behavioral Health Care, a nonprofit mental health organization she founded in 2019 focused on accessible, culturally competent care. She taught teaching social justice issues, mental health, and advocacy to social work students as an assistant professor at UW-Green Bay. She serves on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including Asian Corporate & Entrepreneur Leaders – National, NEW Mental Health Connections, and Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity. She chairs the board of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. She is a member of the Wisconsin Maternal Mortality Review Team and the UW-Madison Prevention Research Center Community Advisory Board. She received her master’s degree in social work from the UW-Madison.

Sirinda Pairin is an Engagement and Communications Manager at the Wisconsin School of Business. She has been with WSB for eight years. Her current role focuses on climate, culture, and belonging. A graduate of the UW-Madison School of Journalism, she is a founding member of the UW-Madison Multiracial Student Union.

MGR Govindaranjan

MGR Govindaranjan is a Madison alder, representing the UW campus area. He serves on the Common Council Executive Committee, the Downtown Coordinating Committee, the Joint Campus Area Committee, the Sustainable Madison Committee and Transportation Commission. He was elected as a student studying Legal Studies and Political Science at UW-Madison. He graduated last month and intends to pursue law school. He previously served as the Legislative Affairs Chair at the Associated Students of Madison, UW’s Student Government. 

Dr. Sara Lam

Dr. Sara Lam is vice president of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, where she leads efforts to strengthen NWTC as a culturally sustaining college where all students feel they belong, achieve success, and are empowered to take action for positive change, with specific attention to students from marginalized groups. Prior to joining the college, Dr. Lam has been an instrumental part of the DEI efforts of University of Minnesota Morris and its community, where she held various roles within teaching, research, and service since 2015. She is a co-founder of the Rural China Education Foundation, a published author, and holds national accolades for her work around educational equality. Dr. Lam earned a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from University of Wisconsin-Madison, an Ed.M. in International Education Policy from Harvard University, and a B.A. in Elementary Education from the University of Minnesota Morris.

Tou Jim Lee

Tou Jim Lee is the Marketing Manager at the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce (HWCC), where he has been since 2016. In his role, Lee is responsible for creating a wide range of content, including articles and videos, to educate, promote, and uplift Asian businesses. He also provides marketing assistance to small business owners by analyzing their current marketing efforts and offering feedback and education on best practices in marketing and social media strategies. In addition, Lee serves as the Board President of Our Scholarship, a volunteer-run nonprofit organization dedicated to fundraising and creating scholarships for Hmong and Southeast Asian American students in Wisconsin. Through these efforts, the organization aims to inspire the pursuit of higher education and cultivate role models and leaders who empower the Hmong and Southeast Asian communities.

Patrick Miles

Patrick Miles is currently serving his second term as chair of the Dane County Board of Supervisors. Professionally, he is an Information Systems Specialist for Wisconsin’s Department of Administration, developing financial management systems. Previously, he was the owner and principal of a consulting business providing business systems analysis services for over 20 years. My professional career has focused primarily on the development and maintenance of billion-dollar public finance systems. He volunteers as board chair of the Design Coalition Institute (DCI), a nonprofit that promotes sustainable community development, affordable green housing, and environmental justice, and as Treasurer of the Madison-Obihiro (Japan) Sister City Board. He is an alum of the UW-Stevens Point.

Dr. Yang Tao

Dr. Yang Tao is director of traffic engineering for the City of Madison, where he supervises 140 employees to manage, operate, and maintain Madison’s pedestrian, bicycle and motor vehicle systems. He was named director in 2018 after working his way up after beginning as a traffic engineer in 2006. He’s earned several honors from the Institute of Transportation Engineers, including the Martin Bruening Award in 2007, the Young Professional Award in 2012, and the Transportation Professional of the Year for the Midwest District in 2018. He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Tsinghua University in Beijing and a PhD in civil engineering with a minor in business from the UW-Madison.

Christina Thor


Christina Thor is Wisconsin state director of 9to5, a grassroots multiracial member-led organization working to advance economic justice through issue-based advocacy, grassroots organizing, and community education by directly engaging impacted women. She is an appointed member of the City of Green Bay Hmong Advisory Council and serves as chair for the Wisconsin Care Coalition. She earned a degree in journalism and public relations from UW-Oshkosh in 2015.

Pasha Thao

Pasha Thao is program manager for diverse alumni engagement at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, where she coordinates and supports a number of affinity groups for University of Wisconsin Alumni. She stepped into that newly-created role in 2020 to help revive the volunteer-run groups, which were active in the 1990s. Thao previously spent three and a half years as a program manager for Wisconsin Youth Company, staffing and coordinating after-school programs. A Verona native, she earned a degree in community and nonprofit management at the UW-Madison.

Dr. Kaiping Chen is an Assistant Professor in computational communication at University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication, and a faculty affiliate at the Department of Political Science, the Data Science Institute, the UW-Madison Robert & Jean Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the Wisconsin Energy Institute, the Institute for Diversity Science, the Center for East Asian Studies, and the African Studies Program. Since 2022, she’s served as the elected International Liaison and the chair for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Taskforce at the Computational Methods Division, the International Communication Association (ICA). She is the recipient of the AEJMC Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver Early Career Woman Scholar Award. Her research uses data science and machine learning methods as well as interviews to study to what extent digital media and technologies hold politicians accountable for public well-being and how deliberative designs improve the quality of civic dialogues and mitigate misinformation and misperception. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Fudan University in China, a master’s degree from Columbia and a PhD from Stanford.

Dr. Nathaniel Chin

Dr. Nathaniel Chin is medical director and Clinical Core Co-Leader for the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) and medical director for the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP). While completing his internal medicine residency at the University of California, San Diego, Dr. Chin’s father was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease (AD). His father’s condition influenced the way he began to look at his own career, and Dr. Chin decided to pursue a career as a geriatrician and scientist focused on dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Chin sees patients in the UW Health Memory Clinic three half-days a week. Dr. Chin is the host of the Wisconsin ADRC’s podcast, “Dementia Matters.” In each bi-weekly episode, he interviews local and national Alzheimer’s disease experts about research advances and caregiver strategies. Dr. Chin grew up in Watertown, Wisconsin, and earned undergraduate and medical degrees from UW-Madison. 

Chundou Her

Chundou Her is a graduate student in Curriculum & Instruction at UW-Madison, researching the intersection of storytelling, youth activism, art, transformative justice, and participatory methods. Through this work, the goal is to develop strategies, patterns, and pedagogy that can be incorporated into the classroom which works towards a liberation-based education versus conformity-based education. Her has presented at a number of national education research conferences.

Krishna Kumar

Krishna Kumar is general manager of the Madison Water Utility, a role he’s held since June 2021. He came to Madison after many years managing water utilities in California, including the Marin Municipal Water District in Corte Madera; the Valley of the Mood Water District in Sonoma; and the Sonoma County Water Agency in Santa Rosa. He earned an undergraduate degree in zoology and an MBA from Cochin University of Science and Technology in Kerala, India.

Tu Le

Tu Le is a realtor at Cooper Spransy and founder of Madison Art House, which aims to inspire kids’ artistic expression. A Madison native, she worked for many years as a fashion designer for Liz Claiborne, The GAP and Lands’ End. She has volunteered at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Goodman Community Center, Sustain Dane, Alzheimer’s Association, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services and the Home Buyers’ Roundtable of Dane County. She was a Brava Magazine Woman to Watch in 2016. She earned a degree in fashion design from the International Academy of Design and Technology-Chicago. 

Pamela Vang

Pamela Vang is an outreach and enrollment specialist at Partnership Community Health Center, an organization dedicated to providing accessible primary health, dental and integrated behavioral health in the Fox Cities. She joined PCHC earlier this year after a stint at United Way Fox Cities, where she served as Marketing, Community Relations, and Advocacy Project Manager. A long-time resident of Appleton, she graduated from Appleton North before continuing her education in early childhood education at Fox Valley Technical College. She then pursued her Bachelor of Science in Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville where she served as a peer mentor and graduated Magna Cum Laude.

Dr. Chai Lee


Dr. Chai Lee is principal of Jack Young Middle School in Baraboo. He got his start teaching English as a second language in Minneapolis, where he went on to become and elementary school principal and high school assistant principal. He’s conducted more than 50 trainings on systemic racism for Hmong leaders and presented Hmong culture and history for many school districts, colleges and universities. He hosted a live radio talk show for 12 years and coordinated the Hmong July Fourth Sports Festival. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Winona State in Minnesota, a master’s from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and a doctorate in education leadership from Sain Mary’s University of Minnesota.

That’s our list for this year! Who did we miss? Nominate people from your community for next year’s list! Just email a name and some info to [email protected].