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Q&A May 29, 2024

Celebrating Asian-American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month at the White House: A Q&A with Kaitlin Ma and Ricky Ly

#OurJacobs Kaitlin Ma and Ricky Ly join the President, Vice President and prominent members of the AANHPI community at a special event in the Rose Garden at the White House

  • Kaitlin Ma
  • Kaitlin Ma and Ricky Ly
  • Ricky Ly

May is Asian-American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, a month-long celebration during which the accomplishments and contributions of AANHPI communities to the United States are honored.

While we’ve been having our own events to mark AANHPI month at Jacobs organized by our employee network OneWorld, we’re not the only ones – a special event was held at the White House in the Rose Garden to celebrate the contributions of members of the AANHPI community. 

We’re very excited to share that two of our brilliant teammates were invited to participate!

We caught up with Kaitlin Ma and Ricky Ly to hear about their trip to the White House and find out what AANHPI month means to them. 

Meet Katlin and Ricky:

Share a little about your background and your role at Jacobs.

Kaitlin: I’ve been with the company for about 10 years and am based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I'm a project manager within federal and environmental solutions, working on a lot of environmental remediation projects for federal and chemical clients.

Ricky: I work in in transportation drainage engineering in Florida. I work for a lot of state and municipal clients on things like environmental resource permitting, stormwater drainage design and resiliency. I'm also involved with the Jacobs Employee Networks, serve as the Collectively ambassador and am the local STEAM lead.

Congratulations on being invited to the White House for the National AANHPI Celebration! Tell us a bit about your experience.

Kaitlin: At first, I wasn’t even sure if the invitation was real! The event was at the White House in the Rose Garden, which is such a magical place – the history, influence and power was palpable. It was an honor to represent Jacobs and the Wisconsin AANHPI community at this event. The President, Vice President and Lucy Liu gave speeches and we had the opportunity to network with prominent individuals within the AANHPI community. It was awesome to see such a diverse group of people represented and being recognized by the President. 

Ricky: It was very unexpected and exciting to be invited – with my background as a child of Vietnamese boat refugees, never in my parents’ wildest dreams could they have imagined that one day I would be invited to the White House Rose Garden to attend this wonderful event. It was such an honor.

  • Ricky Ly
  • President and Vice President at the 2024 AANHPI heritage month event at the White House
  • Kaitlin Ma

You both partake in local activism and engagement in your communities. What does this involve?  

Kaitlin: When I moved to Milwaukee to start my job at Jacobs, I had no roots to any family or friends in the area, so I started volunteering with and the AANHPI community in Wisconsin. I’ve since been involved with various organizations and most recently, we championed Act 266, a bipartisan bill that passed just last month that requires Hmong American and Asian American history to be taught across K-12 classrooms in the state of Wisconsin. It was a bill that was 30 years in the making and I’m so grateful to have played just a tiny part in the process. 

Ricky: Outside of Jacobs, I'm involved with our local AANHPI community through an organization called API Coming Together. We do a lot in the community at local festivals and events, trying to increase civic engagement and encourage non-partisan voter turnout among the Asian American community. The AANHPI community is the least likely to vote of any group in America right now but we're trying to change that.

Why is AANHPI Heritage Month important to you?

Ricky: I think it's a great time not only to reflect back on not just the contributions of the AANHPI community to the fabric of America, but also remember our history so that hopefully we learn from it. 160 years ago we couldn't have been invited to the White House because of the Chinese Exclusion Act and although we as a nation have made great headwinds, unfortunately justice and equity is an ongoing process even today. This month is also an opportunity to celebrate Asian American contributions to America – that we’re a part of the fabric and quilt of America too, so AANHPI month is an opportunity to make sure our stories are told.

Kaitlin: For me, it’s a combination of being able to celebrate all of our contributions and also acknowledge the biases and stereotypes that we have also face. This month is extra special with the passing of the Wisconsin mandate Act 266 which requires the teaching of AANHPI history because it shows that our history is American history. 

You’re both involved with our OneWorld Employee Network, which drives cultural inclusion and global connectivity to actively nurture and support our diverse employees and clients. What does OneWorld mean to you?

Kaitlin: OneWorld is a network of leaders open to trying new things to drive cultural inclusion and connectivity – it’s a really special thing. Without OneWorld, I would’ve never met Ricky! They have supported my growth, fostered my leadership shadow and afforded me many cool opportunities, such as interviewing author Curtis Chin as a part of our Asian & Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Month. 

Ricky: OneWorld is so welcoming and inclusive – all the leaders are such great advocates for diversity and inclusion. It’s an honor to know and work with the team, especially on the plan for API Heritage month – we definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it without their help and support. The network has sponsored the past three API months, which is awesome.

Do you feel like you belong at Jacobs?

Ricky: I think belonging whether it is with an organization like Jacobs or the greater nation and community is an ongoing process. It’s the people that makes Jacobs the great company that it is, and it takes ongoing communication from leadership and investments in time and resources to reemphasize the values we have and make sure that all voices are heard. The connections we can make through the employee networks such as OneWorld really help to facilitate a sense of community and belonging.

Kaitlin: I think it's a hard question – sometimes you’re the only person in a meeting or even your community who looks like you, and that’s always a challenge. However, there’s active engagement from the top, which shows an eagerness to grow the conversation. That and the impact of groups and initiatives like OneWorld and TogetherBeyond are so important for me personally, as well as my mentors who support my growth. I will continue to push us to share the stage, so we look like the communities we serve. 

About the interviewees

Kaitlin Ma

Environmental Scientist and Project Manager Kaitlin Ma sits in the Jacobs Milwaukee, Wisconsin office, workings in Federal and Environmental Solutions. Kaitlin leads environmental remediation projects for federal and chemical clients throughout the U.S. Midwest region. She is the Board Chair of the Lao Community Center of Wisconsin and leads the Asian American Pacific Islander Coalition of Wisconsin's Education Committee. Most recently, Kaitlin organized various stakeholders to support the passing Act 266 which requires the education of Hmong and Asian American history, culture and contribution in public schools.

Ricky Ly

Ricky Ly, PE is a senior drainage engineer and project manager in Jacobs’ Orlando, Florida office working on transportation projects, environmental permitting, resiliency and stormwater basin studies for local, state and federal clients. He is the son of Vietnamese/Chinese refugees and was invited to the White House in 2023 for a community summit on "Building Back Florida" for his work in AANHPI civic engagement through a local Central Florida based community organization called AANHPI Coming Together. He was honored with the 2022 Jacobs' TogetherBeyond Inclusive Leader of the Year Award and also had his biography read into the U.S. Congressional Record by Congressman Darren Soto of Central Florida. 

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