Priya Frank (’04) receives 2015 Outstanding Early Career Award from UW Comm
Arts and equity are the two pillars that hold up Priya Frank’s (B.A., 2004) passions, whether it is related to work, volunteering, or community building. Committed to making a difference, every opportunity she has had is driven by experiencing what it is like to be a first-generation college student in the United States.
Frank’s grandparents are from India; her mother was born in Fiji, and her father in Kenya. They travelled to the states in 1977 with her brother who was three years old. Born in Seattle, Frank holds close the experiences her family had as new immigrants in this country.
“Their stories are a huge reason I do this work,” she said. “The sacrifices they made, the difficulties of being treated as outsiders, and the opportunities they couldn’t access, all while being forced to leave behind pieces of their own cultural identity to ‘fit in’ is what motivates me. I feel like it’s my responsibility to do this work so that it opens doors, and creates space for more voices to be heard and diverse experiences to be recognized as valuable and essential to the conversations happening on campus, in the community, and in our workplaces.”
Creating access has always been an underlying force in the work Frank does. At UW World Series, a performing arts organization that Frank worked at for almost eight years after graduating with a B.A. in Communication and American Ethnic Studies, her job revolved around engaging with art from all over the world and advocating for arts education. When she began working at the UW Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity, access remained a key factor.
“I witnessed the positive impact that the program has in our students’ lives and the need to continue to keep these opportunities available for all students, so that college is an option and a place where they can see themselves,” Frank said.
This led to her work now at the UW Bothell campus, where 51 percent of incoming students are first-generation college students. She asks, if you are the first person in your family to go to college, how do you know what to ask or what to look for in a school, or what kinds of resources are available to you?
“It was an experience I went through– trying to navigate what it even means to get to college,” Frank said. “I went to community college because it seemed like there were so many barriers to get into a university. I didn’t understand the application process, had heard that I had to pay money to even apply, let alone to multiple schools, or that I needed to take the SATs. It seemed daunting and a barrier I didn’t know how to get through.”
Shoreline Community College is where Frank started cultivating her passion in multicultural diversity-related classes. She came away with the knowledge that “this is the work that I need to be doing and I don’t know how I am going to do it, but I will figure it out along the way.”
Frank transferred to the UW and has remained a part of the Husky family, now working as the Associate Director for Advancement for the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell, where she says her favorite part is meeting with alumni and being a connector.
“The other day I had the opportunity to bring together a faculty member with a former student who hadn’t seen each other in years – it was really rewarding to see the excitement and the joy, and to watch the alum express how the professor made such an impact on her career path after she finished school,” Frank said. “A big part of my job is listening and understanding people’s interests and passions and then connecting those with the inspiring programs, initiatives, and events that are happening at UWB.”
Relationship building, bringing an authentic and sincere self to conversations, researching what already exists, creating strategies to address what doesn’t exist, and articulating needs are all communication-related skills that Frank uses on a day-to-day basis. While leading a professional preparedness class for UW Comm students last month, Frank said it’s all about being dedicated and showing up.
“If you say you’re going to be somewhere, be there. And if you can’t afford to get in, then volunteer,” she said. “That’s what I did and how I created much of my network. If you are consistent about showing up, people will recognize your commitment.”
Volunteering in the community is something that Frank continues to do. She is a board member and Diversity Committee Chair at On the Boards, co-founded a local women of color in the arts gathering group, and is a member of Leadership Tomorrow’s class of 2015. She is also Art Director at LUCID Lounge in the University District, where she curates art exhibits and designs interactive components that provide opportunities for interaction.
“My community work has been really key to what I do,” Frank said. “A big passion for me is to be able to connect campus and community, and find ways to leverage and strengthen the community as a whole through these collaborations.”
In December 2014, Frank was appointed a member of the Seattle Arts Commission, shaping policy decisions, making recommendations, and providing citizen participation in city government. Many of these opportunities can be traced back to connections she made while earning her M.A. in Cultural Studies from UW Bothell.
“Working full-time and going to school full-time was a lot, but it was super rewarding and probably one of the best decisions I ever made because it really provided me with a launching point,” she said. “The capstone work I did opened doors and forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and present my research publicly and have that be valued within the Seattle arts community.”
It is for all of these reasons that Frank was chosen to be the 2015 recipient of the Outstanding Early Career Award, which was developed to honor and support a recent graduate (within approximately 10 years) who has shown both impressive career accomplishments and a commitment to the public good. It is through powerful mentors that she had throughout her journey that has allowed her to become one herself.
“It’s okay to be yourself, and it’s actually essential,” she said. “If you have that genuine energy and authenticity about you, it attracts people and they will want to know who you are and what you are about.”