UH Hilo biology student U‘i Barongan co-authors commentary on Asian Americans in STEM

The commentary article, published in Cell, concerns the status of Asian American scientists within the world of STEM and seeks to break stereotypes.

At left is image of the cover of Cell publication, with graphic of a cell, and the words Cell Press, Volume 186, Number 15, July 20, 2023. At right is a photo of Taylor “U‘i” Barongan.
Taylor “U‘i” Barongan, a biology student at UH Hilo, co-authored a commentary piece about Asian Americans in STEM fields, published in the July 2023 issue of Cell, a publication featuring review and opinion articles on recent research advances and issues of interest.

By Evangeline Lemieux.

Taylor “U‘i” Barongan, a biology student at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, contributed to a published commentary article about Asian Americans in science, technology, engineering and math, commonly called the STEM fields.

The article, titled “Asian Americans in STEM are not a monolith,” is published in the July 2023 issue of Cell, a publication featuring review and opinion articles on recent research advances and issues of interest. The intended audience is healthcare professionals and researchers across all fields of science.

Barongan co-authored the article with other students who have studied at Vanderbilt University, a private research university in Nashville, Tennessee. Barongan was an undergraduate researcher in Vanderbilt’s Hinton Lab, Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, in June 2022. The work was part of the Promoting Academic Excellence with Community Engagement and Reach Multicultural Scholars program funded by the American Heart Association. Only ten undergraduate students nationwide from groups underrepresented in science and medicine are selected to participate each summer.

“My research at Vanderbilt consisted of studying aging in mitochondria, and also writing diversity, equity, and inclusion manuscripts,” says Barongan. “I’ve been working with my mentor, Dr. Antentor Hinton, on and off as a scientific artist, and continuing some of my manuscript writing and research since then.”

The commentary

The recently published commentary article in Cell concerns the status of Asian American scientists within the world of STEM and seeks to break stereotypes that the authors argue have been confining students and scientists of Asian descent for too long. It covers topics such as the model minority myth, the panethnicity of Asian Americans, and implicit biases in science and education.

As an Asian American woman in STEM, these issues are close to Barongan’s heart.

“We’re seen as a model minority,” she says, “I’m sure you’ve heard the intensely problematic statement ‘all Asians are good at math,’ and that’s a prime example of how Asians are seen as this monolith for success, especially in the STEM world.”

Barongan says this stereotype, although it may be facilely seen as harmless, has real-world implications for Asian Americans in STEM. “There are issues with Asian Americans getting grants due to this issue,” she says as an example. By giving voice to the topic, she hopes to contribute to correcting the narrative about Asian Americans in STEM.

A generic image of two Asian American scientist in white lab coats observing a vial of red liquid. A transparent collage of many many people is superimposed over the two scientists.
A recently published commentary article in Cell, co-authored by UH Hilo biology student Taylor “U‘i” Barongan, concerns the status of Asian American scientists within the world of STEM and seeks to break stereotypes that the authors argue have been confining students and scientists of Asian descent for too long. (Image courtesy of Cell)

Seeing Asian Americans as a cultural monolith is also a big issue, and one that Barongan feels personally.

“This article was really cool to explore issues that are really pertinent to me and my identity,” she says.

Barongan says the pan-ethnicization of Asian Americans who are a massive and diverse aggregate group of people often means that diversities among them are not recognized. This lack of recognition has also resulted in a real lack of public data about Asian Americans in STEM and in society.

“People like me, people who are Filipino, are in that category but we are not represented at all,” she says. “There are so many different Asian cultures that it’s just so problematic to have them in one category, and so this article talks a lot about that, and how different groups are affected by that label.”

Barongan points out a UH Mānoa study about how often Filipino students don’t get the resources they need. “Culturally there’s some barriers that might prevent them from getting education in the same way someone from a non-Asian background would get.”

With such a dearth of available data on this topic, Barongan’s commentary contributes a lot to the knowledge of Asian Americans in STEM and the struggles they face.

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Story by Evangeline Lemieux, who is double majoring in English and medical anthropology at UH Hilo.