Faces of NPR, AAPI Heritage Month: Wanyu Zhang
Faces Of NPR showcases the people behind NPR--from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what they're inspired by on the daily. This month, we feature NPR's Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Next up is Wanyu Zhang.
Name: Wanyu Zhang, 张菀钰
Title: Brand Director, Marketing & Audience Growth
Instagram Handle: @wanyuohyeah
What influenced your decision to work at NPR? How has your journey been?
It all began back in 2015 when I made the decision after I graduated from Indiana University Bloomington to move to Washington DC, solely drawn to the allure of this captivating city. Guided by my talented boyfriend, Matailong Du, he discovered a neighborhood called NoMa and made it our new home. After the 12-hour drive, my eyes were captivated by a grand blue glass building adorned with a colossal sign that read "NPR," standing tall right next to my new apartment. It was love at first sight, my initial encounter with NPR.
Driven by my curiosity, I eagerly signed up for a public tour of this magnificent structure that neighbored my own. At that time, I had little knowledge of public radio, and I had never even listened to NPR programs. Yet, I was utterly infatuated with the radiant elegance of the building and the warmth exuded by the friendly faces I met during the tour. Although I had missed the deadline for a summer internship application, I was determined to be part of the NPR experience. So I decided to apply for the "NPR Ambassador Program," an opportunity to volunteer as a tour guide, leading visitors through the building and assisting with public-facing events. As the first non-native speaker to become a tour guide at NPR, this marked the beginning of my extraordinary journey with the organization—a chapter that I hold close to my heart.
I embarked on a journey of discovery, acquainting myself with NPR through the lens of our cherished audience, our dedicated staff, and our captivating shows. My good fortune led me to secure my first internship, working alongside the remarkable Barbara Sopato, to delve into the world of branding and design for the NPR Shop. Following this remarkable experience, I got my second internship under the guidance of Laura Soto-Barra, my lifelong mentor. Together, we reimagined the NPR Library into the NPR RAD - Research Archives & Data Strategy. After a brief stint as a temporary employee, I made the decision to pursue a master's degree at Georgetown University.
Continuing my journey, in 2018 I re-joined the esteemed Marketing and Branding team at NPR, beginning as a Promo Photo Specialist and eventually rising to the role of Creative Producer. In this capacity, I took charge of capturing the essence of our shows, talent, and staff through captivating photos and videos. I must express my heartfelt gratitude to my dear production mentor, Carol Paik, for her unwavering support. As the world was gripped by the pandemic, I had the privilege of working as a Marketing Manager, collaborating with my visionary and fearless boss - Kristin Hume. Together, our team staying motivated and upbeat is something that comes naturally to me. I have a unique combination of being an early bird and a night owl, which means I literally have an abundance of energy throughout the day. I also take pleasure in staying mindful of fashion trends and dressing up (Thank you, net-a-porter), regardless of whether it's during the pandemic or in everyday life. It greatly enhances my morning routine and instills a sense of confidence within me. I often jest by saying, "My clothing and style are under my complete control," as I find empowerment in expressing myself through fashion. I firmly believe that what I wear has a significant impact on my productivity, and a well-put-together appearance is not solely about the external appearance but rather how it makes me feel from within. Pushed boundaries and repositioned to the profound impact of branding and marketing. It all began with our inaugural paid marketing campaign for Code Switch.
As time went on, I was promoted to the role of Senior Manager of Marketing & International Business, opening up a new realm of possibilities. And just last spring, I experienced unparalleled joy as I was promoted to the role of Brand Director, leading a small yet immensely talented team. Together with Sergio Romano, Mina Tavakoli, Jesse Brown, Maty Bauer, Luke Medina, Raquel Scoggin, and Alex Reade (special thanks to our former team members - Sasha Fominskaya and Moy Zhong) we embarked on a creative journey that continues to inspire and amaze me.
My passion for this brand drives me to go above and beyond, to be fully immersed in every aspect of it. NPR is not just something I work for, it's a part of who I am, and I am devoted to being the embodiment of this incredible brand.
Wanyu, you bring so much color and life to NPR, how do you stay motivated and upbeat?
But beyond that, what truly keeps me motivated and upbeat at NPR is the environment and culture we have here. I feel incredibly comfortable and confident in who I am within this organization. NPR encourages creativity and innovation, and unlike many other places, we don't get bogged down by bureaucratic job titles or rigid roles. I always feel I have the freedom to express myself fully and make my own decisions on how to contribute to the success of our teams. This sense of autonomy and self-expression is empowering and brings out the best in me. Moreover, I firmly believe that self-expression goes beyond just our external appearance. It encompasses our internal personality and mindset as well. NPR is a place that recognizes and embraces this holistic view of self-expression. We are encouraged to bring our unique skills, perspectives, and ideas to the table, which fosters a vibrant and dynamic work environment where I feel truly alive. But it's important to remember that staying motivated and upbeat is an ongoing journey. It requires continuous self-reflection, growth, and the ability to adapt to new challenges. By staying open-minded, embracing change, and surrounding myself with talented and inspiring colleagues like those at NPR, I am able to maintain my enthusiasm and positive attitude, and this really allows me to be my authentic self while making a meaningful impact in the world.
You have won the first Spark and Impact award at NPR, where does your spark come from?
The Spark & Impact award holds a special place in my heart, as it recognizes individuals who bring out the best in everything they touch and embody the essence of NPR. My spark comes from a deep-rooted belief that I can continuously contribute more to this beloved and impactful organization. I constantly ask myself, "What more can I do to make a difference?"
Even sometimes when language or cultural differences may pose challenges, I always strive to infuse my work with heart and passion. Whether we are in-person or navigating the virtual work style, I believe in using our hearts to guide us. Bringing our hearts to work means opening the door to connection, service, and vulnerability. It involves uplifting and supporting those around us, being authentic, and creating a space for others to do the same. This approach leads to a deeper, more meaningful experience for everyone involved.
I owe much of my growth and success to my many mentors at NPR, they instilled in me the belief that doing what I love will lead to great things (Thanks to Maryfran Tyler, Mary Glendinning, Irene Noguchi, Rima Dael, Selyn Hong, Lori Kaplan and more) I have embraced this philosophy wholeheartedly, which is why my colleagues often see me involved in numerous projects and meetings. I am never afraid to take charge and take the lead when necessary. I am driven by the understanding that if I truly want something, I must put in the hard work to make it happen.
One essential lesson I have learned is to remember my own power. We all have the ability to shape and speak for NPR, and even the world. We have the power to choose how we react, work, and interact with others. My spark comes from a relentless desire to make a positive impact and to uphold NPR's mission. I bring my heart to work every day, embracing challenges, seizing opportunities, and continuously striving to be the best version of myself for the benefit of NPR and its incredible community.
How much of your heritage influences your work?
My heritage runs deep within me, fueling the passion and pride that permeates my work. As a Chinese individual, my roots and identity are firmly intertwined with my culture, serving as the foundation upon which I stand tall. Born and raised in Beijing, I embarked on a journey to the United States for my undergraduate studies, uncertain of how long I would remain in this foreign land. At every step along the way, I have built my own path with determination and resilience, a privilege that fills me with immense pride. Like what I've always said, "I'm Proudly Made in China!"
My parents have inspired in me a belief that positivity can conquer any obstacle, enabling me to thrive in any environment and discover moments of pure joy. As a non-native speaker and a relative newcomer to the world of media, it has not been an easy journey to pave my way in this top-tier news and media organization. Surrounded by extraordinary storytellers and journalists, I sometimes reflect on my incredible fortune to learn from the best of the best. However, it is my multicultural, multilingual, and multidimensional heritage that bolsters my confidence, reminding me that I, too, am part of this admirable group of individuals.
Occasionally, people still cling to stereotypes of the "typical Asian or Chinese woman," assuming we must work tirelessly, remain humble, and continually prove ourselves. Yet, the profound wisdom embedded within my Chinese heritage, specifically the Water Philosophy derived from the Tao Te Ching, has taught me that we must challenge and change these harmful stereotypes together. Like water, which adapts and assumes any shape, always finding solutions and embracing change, we possess a soft power that defies expectations. Our kindness is not a weakness; it is our strength. I am fully aware that if I cannot witness the changes I long for, I must be courageous enough to embody them myself. One of my most significant milestones occurred in March 2019 when I had the honor of collaborating with Alex Lee and Joe Chav to co-lead the first-ever AAPI event and establish our NPR Azns ERG.
Since then, I have been incredibly proud to support and work alongside the rising power ERG group led by remarkable individuals - Emily Kwong (ERG co-lead), Alex Lee (ERG co-lead), Dwi Partowardojo, and Janet Woojeong Lee. And now, this year, we have joined forces with Chunks, an Asian woman-led brand, to launch our inaugural AAPI capsule collection—a celebration of our Asian joy, our Asian culture, and a showcase of our very best.
My heritage is the lifeblood of my work—a fusion of Chinese wisdom, resilience, and kindness. It propels me forward, dispelling stereotypes and nurturing positive change. With every endeavor, I strive to amplify the voices of my community.
What has been your favorite project at NPR?
Wow, where do I even begin? It's a tough question to answer because my time at NPR has been an exhilarating whirlwind of excitement and endless possibilities. I've had the privilege of diving headfirst into a multitude of thrilling and groundbreaking projects, making it nearly impossible to pick just one.
The Chinese version of the "NPR Podcast Start-up Guide" serving as a vital bridge between two countries and becoming the key that connects the global audio and podcast community. The opportunity to facilitate cross-cultural exchange through the power of audio is truly awe-inspiring.
That's not all. Brace yourself for the surge of passion that courses through my veins as I recall our collaboration with GrandArmy to launch the NPR Podcasts - More Voices All Ears national campaign. This initiative was a resounding call to action, amplifying the diverse voices and essential stories of NPR to reach every corner of society. As a proud partner and sponsor of our first-ever mural artwork with D.C. Walls, we transcended traditional boundaries and engaged directly with the community, leaving an indelible mark on their hearts and minds.
And let me tell you, we didn't stop there. We pushed the boundaries of creativity and unity by launching our very first AAPI month merch collaboration. This groundbreaking endeavor not only celebrated our vibrant AAPI community but also served as a testament to the power of collaboration and the importance of representation.
Every step of this journey has been a testament to the dedication and passion that flows within me. It's an honor to be part of a team that constantly pushes the boundaries of innovation and storytelling. I don't want us to just settle for the ordinary; but strive for the extraordinary. We are pioneers, explorers, and advocates, unafraid to embark on new ventures that leave a lasting impact on the world. So, while it may be a challenging question to answer, the truth is that every moment at NPR has been infused with joy, adventure, and boundless enthusiasm. It is a privilege to contribute to the richness of journalism, breaking down barriers, and forging connections that transcend borders and cultures. Together, we are shaping the future of media, one thrilling project at a time. And I can't wait to share more exciting future projects and initiatives that will not only touch people's hearts but also challenge their preconceived notions about NPR. We are more than just public media; we are pioneers pushing the boundaries of what media and news organizations can be. We may not have reached the best yet but I hope we're steadfastly journeying towards the best version of ourselves.
What does the future of NPR look like to you?
I LOVE this question and please allow me to carefully and open-mindedly illustrate the future of NPR through my unique and innovative lens. It is a world where NPR leverages emerging technologies and cutting-edge storytelling and visuals to connect with audiences in unprecedented ways. As we look ahead, I envision NPR expanding its reach beyond traditional platforms, embracing immersive experiences, and embracing interactive engagement with its listeners.
In this future, NPR becomes a trailblazer in utilizing artificial intelligence, virtual reality to create immersive narratives that transport audiences into captivating worlds. It becomes a hub of innovation, experimenting with new formats, and incorporating even more diverse voices and languages to deliver thought-provoking content.
The future of NPR entails fostering a two-way dialogue with our audience, breaking down barriers between journalists and audiences. Through interactive features and personalized experiences, NPR becomes a collaborative platform that invites participation, empowering individuals to shape and contribute to the stories being told.
As a visionary entity, NPR takes bold steps to expand its global footprint, beyond the existing 17 international bureaus, but also forging partnerships with international media and news organizations and amplifying voices from around the world. It becomes a catalyst for cross-cultural understanding, bridging gaps and fostering empathy through the power of storytelling.
Overall, the future of NPR, seen through an innovative lens and visionary perspective, is an exciting realm where technological advancements converge with human creativity. It is a realm where NPR continues to evolve, adapt, and reimagine the possibilities of media, serving as an influential force that enriches lives, challenges perceptions, and connects communities on a global scale.
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