Diversity Champion: Maya Craft

May 15, 2024 - Emily Jodway

Champion Maya Craft is our Diversity Champion for May, a month in which we celebrate National Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Craft grew up in Shanghai, China, before arriving in the United States and settling in Michigan. She has spent more than ten years working for Michigan State, bringing strong cultural values from her upbringing in China, such as the importance of education and always seeking ways to improve oneself, into her work with students through the Career Services Network.

Craft’s youth was shaped by these Chinese idioms, referenced by her parents and recited nearly every day. “Family values, respect for elders … they're all very important values my parents have always had,” she explained. “A traditional Chinese family is usually impacted by Confucianism, and they focus on these family values.  Even when I was a child, my parents would prompt me to recite a family motto, establishing a lasting tradition for me."

Another area of her life greatly affected by this familial influence is her belief in the importance of education and learning from others, as well as passing on knowledge gained to the next generation. Her parents had always encouraged her to pursue higher education, particularly in teaching, partly because they had been unable to do so themselves at the time due to China undergoing a political reform by Mao Zedong known as the Cultural Revolution.

After earning her undergraduate and master’s degrees in China, Craft took a teaching assistant position in Virginia.

“It was the first time that I actually taught outside China,” she said. “And I realized language teaching actually wasn’t a good fit for me.”

This realization led Craft to consider going back to graduate school, and she landed on Michigan State upon learning of its strong cultural education program. She earned a research assistant position working with linguistics software and enjoyed the fact that it still fit into the field of education but gave her a chance to “be outside the box.”

While working in the College of Education, a position within Career Services opened up, which she eagerly applied for. At the time, Craft had also been participating in cultural exchange activities within the campus community and felt that she had earned a better understanding of student life.

"When the opportunity arose in Career Services, it intrigued me because it brought back a moment of personal uncertainty," she reflected. "I thought, 'I've invested seven years in this career path,' but now I don't want to work in this field. What shall I do?' As a first-generation college graduate, my parents were unable to guide me through such situations. So, I felt it would be gratifying to join that community and explore what contributions I could make."

Since then, Craft has spent countless hours working toward making Career Services on campus a better place. One of her favorite Chinese idioms is "Wēn Gù ér Zhī Xīn", which translates into ‘Reviewing the old and learning the new,’ stressing the value of continuous learning and drawing wisdom from the past while embracing innovation and progress. One of the first ways in which Craft used her love of innovation was carving out a space in Career Services for international students to grow. She created and led an international career track for MSU students that involves a trip to China to engage directly with employers and alumni.

"I was eager to engage more with international students because while they were familiar with their home country as residents and citizens, they often lacked a deep understanding of the professional working environment," Craft explained.

Craft expanded this by adding an experiential learning course for MSU first-generation college students, traveling to Chicago in the spring for a week to meet with non-profit federal government offices and connect with other first-generation alumni. One of the most important things in Craft’s eyes is making Career Services accessible to all and using it as an educational tool not only for the final months of college but to help students at every step along their journey at MSU.

"College life is much more than academics alone. When you're navigating on your own, as I was, you realize there's a sense of community you may have been unaware of during your own college experience. You feel a sense of loss, lacking that same sense of belonging," she expressed. "It's almost like feeling, 'I don't belong here, I'm unsure if I'm doing this right.'"

Among her plans for future initiatives within the College of Social Science are programs created specifically for new college students, students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and hands-on career education and programming that connect students with Michigan employers.

Throughout everything that she does, Craft carries a great pride for her heritage. To this day, she quotes the idioms taught to her by her parents and passes them on to her own children. "I believe the language of those idioms carries the wisdom of my ancestors and my parents," she explained. "I'm determined not to lose that cultural heritage in the future. Even though my children speak English better than Mandarin Chinese, I still want to ensure they recognize their connection to it, to preserve that legacy. I want them to take pride in that aspect of their heritage."

Having an event like Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Craft says, gives the perfect opportunity to celebrate this heritage and cultivate it within the community. By celebrating her heritage openly and participating in local and on-campus cultural events, she feels more included in the community at large.

"When I first arrived here, I felt like an outsider," she shared. "But when you embrace your heritage and celebrate yourself as part of this larger community, it truly warms my heart and fills me with pride. Like any first-generation immigrant, there's often a desire to blend in and not highlight our differences. However, through this experience, I've come to realize the importance of being proud of who I am."


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