“I didn't choose UNI, UNI chose me - I was the lucky one.” This is how Wing-Keung Jason Lau, a 1999, Summa Cum Laude graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in the Leisure, Youth and Human Services (LYHS) program explains why he chose UNI.
Jason also earned his Master of Arts degree in 2002 in LYHS Administration from UNI, and his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 2010 in Educational Policy and Leadership Studies from the University of Iowa.
Jason encountered several barriers on the road to his current success. His parents didn’t attend college; in fact, his father didn’t even finish high school, so Jason had sparse opportunities as he was growing up. He did not have the means or money but was offered an opportunity to come to UNI when he was recruited by Christopher Edginton, professor and former director of UNI's School of Kinesiology, Allied Health and Human Services (formerly known as the School of Health, Physical Education and Leisure Services.)
Edginton met Jason when he traveled to Hong Kong with a group of LYHS students to lead a training workshop at the same organization where Jason was working. The non-profit organization TREATS promoted inclusion by integrating children with and without disabilities through play and recreation. “After [Edginton] returned to UNI, he wrote a very sincere letter to my boss and offered me the opportunity to finish my education at UNI. I didn't think twice and accepted his offer,” recounted Jason.
Jason came to UNI's campus from Hong Kong 20 years ago with only two suitcases and no money. “Opportunities for me when I was a child were really limited. So it has been just amazing for someone like me who didn't have any means or money to be able to finish his degree at one of the most reputable public universities in the United States,” he said.
Following graduation, Jason served as the program operations coordinator, assistant director for UNI's Camp Adventure. The program provides an extraordinary opportunity for university and college-age students to participate in worthwhile and valuable service learning experiences.
“I met many of my lifelong friends through this program; the program also provided valuable opportunities to serve children and youth and integrate theory that I learned in the classroom with practice, and develop new knowledge, skills and competencies working with very diverse populations worldwide,” says Jason. As a result of the Camp Adventure program, Jason travelled to over 30 different U.S. military sites, as well as other non-military locations throughout Europe, Asia and the United States.
Reflecting upon his experience at UNI, Jason believes it is the people at UNI who make the difference. “I couldn't have survived and done what I have accomplished without the support of each and every one of them. They welcomed me to their homes; they supported me both personally and professionally. They never treated me any differently than their other friends and families. I was so touched by everyone at UNI and thankful for their support. Because of the people, they made me a better person and a productive member of society.”
Jason continues to be grateful for his experience at UNI. He explained, “UNI not only made my dreams come true -- UNI also made the impossible possible.”
To show his appreciation to UNI and honor his late parents, Jason established the Po Wa Opportunity Scholarship Endowment. “I wanted to do something meaningful with the money that can make the biggest impact and a difference in someone's life. I knew there was one place I could trust which is my alma mater - UNI,” he explained.
Jason has received numerous honors and awards including ten UNI scholarship, leadership and/or service awards; UNI Purple and Old Gold Meritorious Scholarship Award in Leisure Services; UNI Alumni Association Heritage Honours Young Alumnus Award; Future Scholar Award, Academy of Leisure Science/SPRE/NRPA; and Iowa Park and Recreation Association Scholarship Award.
Jason was recently inducted into the Elinor A. Crawford and William R. Thrall Hall of Excellence at the UNI College of Education School of Kinesiology, Allied Health and Human Services and is a member of the UNI Alumni Association Board of Directors. He and his wife, Mavis (who received both her Bachelor of Arts in Computer Information Systems and Master of Arts in Community Health Education at UNI) and their two children live in San Rafael, California, where Jason is executive director of extended and international education at Sonoma State University. Additionally, Jason also helps care for his brother in Hong Kong who has physical and mental challenges.