Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Deng explores Southeast Asia, nonprofit management

Mengwei "Weiwei" Deng

The opportunity to combine nonprofit management with Southeast Asian studies brought Mengwei "Weiwei" Deng to the La Follette School of Public Affairs.

She started thinking about nongovernmental organizations as a career path during her senior year at the University of Oregon, from which she graduated in 2010. For her public relations major's capstone course, she and her team crafted a campaign for their client FOOD for Lane County, a regional food bank. "Since then, I knew I needed to pursue higher education that connects non-profit management and Southeast Asia studies," Deng says. "Not many schools offer a combination of study like this. That's why I chose La Follette."

Deng became interested in Southeast Asian cultures during an undergraduate internship in Singapore. "I love the diversity of Southeast Asia," she says. "I stayed in Singapore for a couple of months in fall 2009 for a media internship, and I met people from SE Asia and all around the world. Singapore itself is a very diverse community, representing different sides of SE Asia. There are four recognized official languages, and the national holidays recognize every religion. There are tensions among different ethnic groups, but the government enforces tolerance."

Last summer Deng took second-year Indonesian through the University of Wisconsin–Madison's Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute, an eight-week intensive language training program for undergraduates, graduate students and professionals. She is glad third-year fits into her fall schedule for her Master of International Public Affairs program. The university is internationally recognized for its Southeast Asian studies program.

While at the University of Oregon, Deng became a self-described social media addict. "I took a PR course on how to use social media to get information and networking," Deng says. "For that class, I started to use LinkedIn and Twitter. I also wrote blog posts twice a week. I found my summer internship in Beijing that year using Twitter, and I knew that fall I would do an internship in Singapore, so I built many connections with people in Singapore as well."

As an undergraduate, Deng interned in Portland, Oregon, with Mercy Corps, an international non-governmental organization that focuses on disaster response, sustainable economic development, health services, and emergency and natural disaster relief. After she graduated in 2010, she went home to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, China, and worked for the Mercy Corps field office there.

The agency opened the office in 2008, after an earthquake devastated Sichuan and killed an estimated 68,000 people and left at least 5 million people homeless. "Mercy Corps is running all kinds of rehabilitation programs, including a youth psychosocial program, disaster management capacity building and school to work," says Deng, who was in the youth team. "The program Moving Forward uses sports, games and play-based activities to help children deal with the grief and trauma caused by natural and man-made disasters. As life has normalized in quake-stricken areas, the program is transitioning to a development program for children's personal and social skills using a sports- and play-based medium. I designed brochures and posters for this program as well as for Mercy Corps China. I also designed program notebooks for students. I occasionally traveled to schools in quake-stricken areas for to assist at meetings and events and to check program progress."

She appreciates that the La Follette program offers a wide range of focus fields — Deng is studying international development in addition to nonprofit management and Southeast Asia.

"No matter whether La Follette students are interested in studying health, poverty, development, energy and environment or any region in the world, they can always find one or more focus fields that suit their interests," Deng says.

She is enjoying Melanie Manion's course on corruption. "I'm sure I will have a much better understanding about governance and corruption in developing countries," Deng says.

The La Follette School's small size has been a benefit, Deng adds. "I took professor David Weimer's Policy Analysis last semester and found it extremely beneficial for me. Professor Weimer has a rich experience in writing policy and explained well to us about the difference among writing policy analysis, academic paper, news pieces, etc. I went to his office hour a couple of times and he's so nice and helpful."

After graduation, Deng wants to go back to China and work for an international organization that focuses on development and relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Such a position would build on her work and education experiences. "ASEAN-China relations are very strategic," Deng says. "ASEAN countries are important neighbors to China and they connect to China historically, culturally and financially."