Photo by Duane Tinkey
Photo by Duane Tinkey

Siew-San Wong leads by example. When she tells young people that education leads to a better life, she can point them to her life of learning.

At the moment, Wong is studying for her doctorate degree in educational leadership and policy studies with an emphasis in higher education at Iowa State University.

Wong is director of workforce and education initiatives for Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC). Her life has focused on learning and the opportunities it provides for young people to shake free of disadvantages.

Her father was the equivalent of the superintendent of schools in Singapore, where she grew up and lived until 1984, when her family moved to the Omaha area so that her father could obtain undergraduate and graduate degrees.

That opportunity was not available in Singapore, but it was no surprise to Wong that her father jumped at the opportunity to uproot the family.

"He was probably my biggest influence," Wong said. "He was someone who just belonged to the world."

Wong and her father entered college at the same time and both attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha. They had one class together. After receiving his bachelor's and master's degrees, Wong's father and family moved back to Singapore.

Wong stayed behind. She met her husband while pursing a master's degree in business administration and industrial/organizational psychology at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

Her husband, Steven, is a research scientist at Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. in Johnston. He takes on the household responsibilities so that she can be involved with various organizations and causes.

"He allows me to do the other work," Wong said.

Her other work is extensive.

For 11 years, Wong was associate provost at DMACC, where she was responsible for the full range of student services, and served as interim provost in 2005. She has been a member of the Chrysalis Foundation board since 2006, currently serving as president.

In addition, she is a member of the boards of the Morris Scholarship Fund and the Iowa Asian Alliance, the Gateway Dance Theater and the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science.

Wong said her work with students provided the opportunity to witness the impact of policy on the lives of people who were trying to improve themselves through education.

"It requires courage for them to try to change their lives," she said.

Wong also tries to convince the people she helps that they have an obligation to help others.

Wong has been inspired by DMACC Vice President Mary Chapman.

"She gets power from her generosity and the fact that she is willing to give it away," Wong said. "Her energy is directed to those who most need it."