Oanh Bui

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Oanh Thi Thu Bui

Oanh Bui

Institute for Community Inclusion
University of Massachusetts Boston, MA

Oanh Thi Thu Bui has been a cultural broker for the Vietnamese community in Massachusetts and has advocated tirelessly for Vietnamese speaking parents and also parents from culturally linguistically diverse (CLD) communities on the Language Access to ensure CLD parents can fully participate in their children’s special education process. Being a cultural broker herself, she understands greatly the obstacles which not only Vietnamese families are facing but also many of non-English speaking families are facing with accessing the services. Oanh has shared her own journey being a single mother navigating the US maze for appropriate service for her child with multi-disability and her experience being an immigrant at different universities including Boston University of Public Health, Boston University of Education, and Lesley University. She has a great interest in working with different key stakeholders to improve the service access for families from CLD communities.

Currently, Oanh is working at the Federation for Children with Special needs as the Health Educator and Outreach Specialist. Oanh is an advisory member of the MA DDS Statewide Family Support, Autism Now, and Consumer Advisory Committee of Shriver Center. She is also a new member of the Steering Committee of Autism Act Early in Massachusetts.

Oanh was a FORD scholar and holds two Master Degrees in Health Administration/Public policy and Sustainable International Development. She was a LEND fellow (Leadership and Education in Neuro-developmental Disability) through Shriver Center.

Project Narrative

1. Please describe your activities during your fellowship experience. Describe your final capstone project(s).
During my Diversity Fellowship, I:

  • Worked closely with my Mentor and Project Director, Paula Sotnik, to review and revise the Cultural Broker Curriculum
  • Identified and reached out to Leaders, researchers, family members, self-advocate in the DD field to interview them on their perspectives about diversity and how to build diverse workforce as well as to promote authentic diversity and inclusion
  • Interviewed 10 stakeholders regarding diverse leaders in DD network
  • Examined and reflected on my role as cultural broker, what have been done and what need to be considered to expand the application of this model across the DD fields.
  • Served as a Cultural Broker between Vietnamese Families who have children with intellectual disability ages 18 to 22 and the newly funded ICI MA Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Program designed to enable students with ID to attend college.
  • Reviewed research studies to support my final paper on diverse workforce and diverse leaders in the DD field
  • Presented on the cultural brokering model to:
    • School nurse, Boston Children's hospital
    • Mass Family Organizing for Change - Massachusetts Department of Developmental Service
    • The National Cultural Competence Center - Georgetown University (webinar)
    • Act Early Conference, Shriver Center, UMASS Medical
    • 2016 TASH Conference
    • 2016 AUCD Conference (upcoming 12/2016)
    • Wrote a 3-part article about my journey as a cultural broker for AUCD 360

My final projects were Cultural Broker curriculum for parents and a poster and article on diverse leaders in the DD field.

2. Who did your project inform, help, influence or impact? (UCEDD, individual, community, state) How?
My project informed, helped, influenced and/or impacted:

  • National organizations
  • State agencies
  • Universities
  • Community-based agencies
  • Professionals or Service Providers
  • Parents or Family members of individual with disabilities
  • Self-Advocates

My final paper on a diverse workforce and diverse leaders in the DD field will be completed and published on The Institute Brief ICI to be shared across ICI's listserve, AUCD listserve, and other partners. By publishing the paper, this will continue our conversation of ensuring the authentic diversity and inclusion through meaningful communication among stakeholders and improve the equity of those coming from diverse backgrounds.

3. Why did you choose to work on that project(s)?
I chose to work on this project based on my own experience as a cultural broker. I have partnered with many different professionals (medicine, education, social and recreational fields) while supporting my Vietnamese community at large and my own daughter. I can see the complication of the system and encounter a good number of professionals who may not be culturally sensitive when working with families where English is not their first language. I can see the imbalanced power structure within the system of care. My biggest concern is the lack of diversity in the workforce who can help bridge the cultural and communication gaps for families from diverse backgrounds.

I hope that sharing my personal stories as well as different perspectives from others can help us all to work together and influence a system change.

4. What did you gain from being a Diversity Fellow?
Personal growth: By working closely with my mentor and my supervisor, Paula Sotnik, she helped me learn more about the history of the cultural brokering model, how and why it was started and implemented. Paula introduced me to the world of grant writing and explored key factors for grants. I also have learned a lot about myself as I was challenged to move to the next level of leadership and be a catalyst for change.

Professional Network: During this short time pursuing the fellowship, I was able to network with other professionals and to understand more about UCEDD and other centers and programs via AUCD. I gained more knowledge and confidence when presenting the cultural broker model to other professionals. I can see there is a huge need to collaborate in order to leverage the scarce resources, address the needs of families from diverse background and educate professionals who work with diverse families. It is critical to train more cultural brokers who can help us to increase equity, improve service access and authentic inclusion.

Leadership skills: Participating in this fellowship allowed me to be more reflective about the work I am doing and how to strategically bring the issue to a higher level. There is so much that needs to be done and we need collective efforts to influence change. I need to examine the white privilege further and find an effective way to address the microaggression which may prevent diverse leaders to grow.

5. How will this experience impact your education or career decisions?
Most of the time, I am responding to the huge needs my own community and the lack of cultural responsiveness from service delivery professionals. The fellowship allows me to take a step back and reflect on the work that I am doing to help educate and empower parents from diverse communities. The fellowship also helped me to better understand the "white privilege" and "power structure" which I have to face on a daily basis as an immigrant, not only in my own work life but also while collaborating with other partners who addresses the needs of families from diverse backgrounds.

This fellowship had a great impact on my future endeavors of continuing to advocate for equity, social justice, service access and authentic inclusion of diverse leaders as well as the reality of establishing more and more diverse leaders in DD field.

6. What are your future goals? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
I hope to be able to network with a multidisciplinary team and establish a consultant agency to address this effectively across domains including medical, educational, social and recreational fields. I would like to share my personal struggle as an immigrant in navigating the system of care for my daughter, and how I became a natural cultural broker for the Vietnamese community with the hope to inspire and attract more parent leaders from diverse communities to become cultural brokers for their own community. I want to continue to collectively collaborate with AUCD, UCEDD and other national organizations to address the lack of diversity in the DD workforce and network, promote authentic collaboration across interdisciplinary domains, expand our training on the cultural brokering model to both parents and professionals nationwide and to influence system change. Most of all, I would like to find grants to organize training for more cultural brokers representing the major diverse communities in the US.

7. What recommendations do you have for other fellows?
I recommend to other fellows to:

  • be persistent, and a dedicated catalyst for change
  • continue to voice on behalf of many diverse families who might not have the tools that we have to influence system change
  • do this work together, as collective efforts will make such a difference
  • have an open mind and willingness to learn and respect different cultural values
  • create opportunities for authentic meaningful inclusion of diverse leaders
  • partner and leverage existing resources
  • share best practices among the network

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