My hair was gelled, and I sat up straight. I was overdressed for a Friday morning in October but with good reason. Today, I had my first meeting with my alumni mentor, Angela Liu ’04. I didn't know much about Angela, but I knew she was exceptional. Angela was a double Tar Heel and had made partner at her global law firm. As a fellow Asian American interested in law, I had prepared a two-hour-long list of questions for our first meeting. I wanted to leave a good impression!
Angela answered my FaceTime with a cheerful hello as she poured herself a bowl of cereal. Within five minutes of chatting, I realized my nerves, formality, and hair gel were all a bit unnecessary.
My mentoring relationship with Angela has meant an important friendship—a friendship that’s allowed me to gaze into a future profession, its work-life dynamic, and its cultural barriers.
When I first spoke with Angela in fall 2019, I had just returned from a semester interning in Congress in Washington, D.C. My semester “abroad” had ignited my interest in law, but I knew little about the legal profession. My mentoring relationship with Angela changed this.
Throughout our seven calls—each one lasting well over our scheduled 30 minutes—Angela explained with thoughtful care and good humor what legal terms such as litigator, deposition, and arbitration meant. She shared with me the ins and outs of being a litigator at a global law firm. Angela explained how associates make partner and what makes a good associate. As someone seeking to learn about the corporate law world, I found Angela to be a treasure trove of information.
Our mentoring relationship has also provided me with a candid exposure to how Angela approaches balance in her life. Since coming to UNC, I have had plenty of informational interviews with Carolina alumni. However, before being paired with Angela, few of these conversations had provided me with a reliable pulse of a profession’s work-life dynamic.
Upon our second and third calls, I began asking Angela these types of questions. What did her weekends look like? How did she manage time for a relationship with her family? How many hours did she typically sleep at night? In response, Angela has always been forthright with me. She’s shared with me the cracks in our institutional systems, including access to the ballot box, while arguing to secure voting rights (virtually) before the Tennessee Supreme Court during the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s been candid about the corporate law world’s demanding schedule.
Lastly, my relationship with Angela has helped me better understand the cultural barriers I will face after I graduate and leave Chapel Hill. We have bonded over our shared identities as second-generation Asian Americans.
Being from the South, I don’t meet many Asian American lawyers. After graduating law school in 2009, Angela was the first Asian American woman to make partner at her law firm. She’s shared with me the challenges she’s faced in a largely white, predominantly male profession. Angela and I both grew up as Asian children in predominantly white areas, and we’ve spoken about our shared feeling of marginalization, but how our differences can be our strengths.
In March, I celebrated when Angela got engaged! In May, I beamed with pride as Angela delivered an amazing virtual SEVEN Talk to more than 40 scholars and alumni. Throughout the year, Angela has supported my efforts to establish the UNC Asian American Center every step of the way. As I enter my last year at Carolina, I am excited to continue my mentor pairing with Angela.
Above all, Angela’s mentorship has reinforced a lesson I first learned at Morehead-Cain Finalists’ Weekend in 2017: I will never be alone on my Morehead-Cain adventure. There will always be a fellow scholar, alumnus, or staff member at every corner.
As I graduate Carolina, I plan to pass that lesson forward.
Sean Nguyen ’21 is a history major and plans to graduate with minors in public policy and statistics and analytics. The scholar is a co-founder of the UNC Asian American Center and an intern in the Office of University Development at Carolina. Sean is also the legislative analysis team lead for American Predatory Lending, an interdisciplinary research project through Duke University.
The Morehead-Cain Mentoring Program is designed to leverage the power of the Morehead-Cain network by cultivating connections between scholars and alumni, providing structure and support to these relationships so that they can develop based on shared values and interests.