University of Pennsylvania - Luke Kertcher

Most Outstanding VSA Member of the Year Nomination: Luke Kertcher

Why was this person selected as “Member of the Year” for your organization? What was the criteria to be a recipient of this award?

Luke received the 2019 University of Pennsylvania Asian Alumni Network (UPANN) Student Leadership Award, as well as the 2019 East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) Trailblazer award. Currently, neither Penn VSA nor Northeast UVSA have awarded “Most Outstanding Member” awards. As this previous External Vice President of Penn VSA, in addition to being a member of UNAVSA’s Civic Engagement Committee, Luke spearheaded innovative campaigns and educational events that allowed VSA members to tackle issues related to our Vietnamese cultural, community, and political power through teach-ins, collaborations with external Vietnamese organizations, and incorporating funding from national Asian American organizations to create programs for the Penn Vietnamese and Asian American community. Luke leveraged his academic interests and extensive network to push Penn VSA to approach more challenging topics, creating educational and event-organizing and conversation facilitation frameworks for future VSA generations to use.

Describe the roles the nominee has held in his/her community and how these roles have influenced your organization. Provide examples.

During his time at Penn, Luke acted as the External Vice President of Penn VSA, a co-chair for the Penn Asian American Students Undergraduate Advisory Board, a college organizer for VietLead, an undergraduate representative on the University Council Committee on Diversity and Equity, a member of UNAVSA’s Civic Engagement committee, a facilitator for the Asian Pacific American Leadership Initiative, and more.

Outside of Vietnamese community organizing (VSA work), he created toolkits for students and organizations alike on how to engage with Southeast Asian deportations (see URL #3), organized an entire conference on the importance of Asian American Studies (see URL #1, #6), and remained an advisor for incoming Asian American Studies students. His unwavering advocacy for human rights for Vietnamese and Southeast Asian Americans is reflected in his work as an advocate on Capitol Hill (see URL #5, #7, #8) to fight for data disaggregation and against unjust detention and deportations of Southeast Asian refugees.

Given his extensive community work, it’s easy for Luke to get wrapped up in organizing outside of his VSA. However, what makes his work so impactful and impressive is that he always finds a way to incorporate them into his VSA work. He led the charge on Penn VSA’s first phone bank with VietLead (see URL #2) to call 1,000 people. He led Penn VSA to participate in Southeast Asian Solidarity Week: Students Against Deportation to create educational materials on the timeline of SEA deportations (see URL #9), and co-organized a teach-in on the history of SEA deportations alongside other organizations (URL #10). Even beyond VSA, he created a podcast about the state of higher education and Asian American Studies with UNAVSA’s Civic Engagement committee (URL #4).

What qualities does the nominee have that makes him/her stand out within your organization? Provide examples.

Without a doubt, Luke’s presence and hard work has set a tone for the organization to be unafraid but also compassionate in tackling topics such as incarceration, deportation, solidarity work, educational access, and more. As passionate as he is about educating VSA members, students, and young adults about pressing issues within the Vietnamese community, he is even more invested in making sure that the information is approachable and accessible, as demonstrated by the countless toolkits he has crafted the events he has organized over the years. His ability to connect with so many different members with the community, patience in educating even the most out of touch, and his willingness to work with different communities, makes his work unlike that any of his predecessors or contemporaries.