Directorial debut on the horizon for ASU grad at 67
College of Integrative Sciences and Arts Outstanding Graduate Cindy Lee is completing her master’s degree and directing, producing her first documentary
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.
Published nonfiction writer, first-time documentary director and community advocate Cindy Lee, 67, believes “it’s never too late to fulfill your dreams.”
Her accomplishments as a non-traditional Arizona State University student and selection as the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts Outstanding Graduate for December 2023 certainly attest to this sentiment.
As a Master of Liberal Studies student in ASU’s School of Applied Sciences and Arts, Lee, from Scottsdale, Arizona, has used the power of language to explore topics like racism in America and immigration storytelling. Through the years, her pieces have resonated with many people of color, as well as allies.
In one of her published essays — “Am I a Conditional American?” — Lee delved into her experiences as a Korean American during the COVID-19 pandemic and wrote, “I now understand viscerally, not just intellectually, what it’s like to feel afraid for how I look, to worry about people reacting irrationally to my race, my ethnicity.”
Her courage, creativity and selflessness led Megan Todd and Jada Ach, assistant teaching professors in the School of Applied Sciences and Arts in CISA, to nominate Lee for the outstanding graduate honor.
“Over the past 15 years, and while working toward her master’s degree in liberal studies at ASU, Cynthia has helped seniors and people with disabilities make informed Medicare choices, helped save residential rural desert land from commercial rezoning and land use, and helped prevent Congress from defunding an essential national program,” they wrote in their nomination letter.
Her work as a people-centric storyteller is just beginning. Lee, who completed her degree concentration in film and media studies, looks forward to charting her own path as a director and producer of documentaries to raise awareness about social and environmental issues for years to come.
Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Asnwer: I took an Introduction to Writing Nonfiction class from veteran journalist and memoir writing teacher Amy Silverman, never having done this before. I realized nonfiction writing was something I wanted to pursue.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: The Master of Liberal Studies (film and media studies) offered at ASU was a perfect fit for my interests: interdisciplinary studies, creative nonfiction writing, film and media. Meeting the program director at the time, Professor Emeritus Angela Giron, also confirmed my decision to join ASU.
Q: Can you share about your research? What about your research makes you most proud?
A: My recent research focuses on the stories immigrant parents and other parents don’t tell their children and the various reasons why. This is not uncommon. The children often don’t know these stories until they are adults, which can inform or update their sense of identity. I have interviewed several parents and their children this year and plan to present their stories in short documentaries.
Q: What was the most interesting moment or accomplishment in your ASU journey?
A: I wrote my first two published essays in classes at ASU in Dr. Sarah Viren’s Narrative Nonfiction course and in (Clinical Assistant) Professor Rebecca Byrkit’s Memoir and Personal Essay course. Their teachings and learning environments created the possibilities. I grew so much as a writer under their guidance.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU, and what was it?
A: I credit two Master of Liberal Studies degree program professors for the most important lesson: Dr. Megan Todd and Dr. Jada Ach. They taught me to trust myself and what I have to say in the way that I say it. I’m a non-traditional student. I’ve learned from them to think and research in interdisciplinary ways that, combined with their unyielding encouragement, gave me the confidence and support to expand my capabilities. I have directed and am producing my first documentary film at age 67.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Trust yourself and what you have to say. We all contribute in different ways; we bring our unique experience and selves to our education. That has great value. Then learn as much as you can and expand your ways of thinking and viewing.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: My classes were either iCourses or on Zoom. While power studying, I was probably hyperventilating at home in front of my laptop.
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