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Tempe local, ASU alumna Arlene Chin sees city council position as new way to give back

Arlene Chin in her office at the ASU Foundation.

Arlene Chin graduated in 1987 with a bachelor's degree in organizational communication from what is today the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication.

June 05, 2019

At a swearing-in ceremony early in May, Arizona State University alumna Arlene Chin became the newest member of the Tempe City Council and the first Asian American woman to hold the position in the city’s history.

Arlene Chin in her officeArlene Chin in her office at the ASU Foundation.

Chin is a lifelong resident of Tempe who has spent almost a decade working with ASU. Now serving until July 2020 in place of former Councilman Kolby Granville, she sees the new position as an extension of a long-standing commitment to both.

“As a citizen and community member, I’ve sort of always had an expectation for myself to get involved in representing Tempe,” she said. “ASU is in many ways a Tempe community member itself, so for me, they have gone hand in hand.”

Chin now serves as the director of scholarship advancement at the ASU Foundation, the latest in a list of leadership roles associated with the institution. Over the years, she has volunteered and worked with the ASU Alumni Association, served as the director of scholarship services with ASU Financial Aid and Scholarship Services and the assistant director of international undergraduate admissions.

In 1987, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication from what is today the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She later earned a master's degree in education from Northern Arizona University.

From teaching stints abroad to working in globally-focused retail, she said the tools she learned while in The College provided the broad base to build a multifaceted career.

“Teaching English in Taiwan after school made me realize that I enjoyed working with people and developing relationships as a representative of something larger than myself,” she said. “Community development, community relations, teaching, those are all pathways we don’t realize we took until we take a moment to look back.”

Both Chinese immigrants who met in San Francisco, Chin’s parents moved the family to Tempe when she was 9 years old. Growing up next to ASU’s expanding Tempe campus made it a natural choice when looking for a university as a first generation student.

Chin was initially pursuing a business degree when a conversation with a friend majoring in communication made her realize what finally felt like a true calling.

“Being a first generation college student, you don't come in knowing and fully understanding what a major and an academic pathway might really mean,” she said. “I wanted to work with people and study people, discovering that was a combination of my learning more about myself, and also learning what that meant in regard to an academic pathway.”

Arlene Chin shows a photo of herself and her parents, taken the day of her graduation from ASU.

Chin shows a photo of herself and her parents taken the day of her graduation from ASU in 1987.

Working in student-focused roles at ASU, Chin has often returned to the story of her own academic journey to help new generations through theirs.  

“I tell students now that finding the right major feels like the clouds parting and the birds singing,” she said. “And there are so many great people at The College and throughout ASU who are happy to help direct students to a pathway where they can move forward with their interests.”

In turn, Chin said former students can pay it forward, by giving back.

“I would highly encourage alumni to give back and get involved, whether it’s with time or resources,” she said. “Because foundationally The College really is a part of who they become, it’s important not to forget that.”

That spirit of public engagement is something Chin sees as an inherent part of her Tempe childhood that still exists today. As evidence, she points to the 49 community members who ran alongside her for the city council seat.

“I was very proud of my community when I heard that,” she said. “Because it shows the level of interest people have in serving.”

Taking the helm as a city councilwoman serves as another platform to continue connecting with people on the local level.

“Like anywhere else, people are concerned with balancing their quality of life with the growth and progress of our community,” she said. “I feel like I understand that because I am part of the community — I'm there, paddling with everyone else.”

Tempe has been the staging ground for many of Chin’s milestones. Within her new role, she aims to forge new paths for those that come after.

“It’s important to know who you are, because we didn't just get here on our own, any successes that we have are partly possible because of the people that came before us,” she said. “I know how important it was for me to see role models growing up, if I can be that person for others, then I'm honored.”