At her Eastman intern orientation in 2018, Stephanie Yeap learned about Eastman Resource Groups (ERGs), formed to create an inclusive culture and help underrepresented groups grow professionally. The ERGs ranged from serving the LGBTQ+ community to African Americans to military service veterans and more. But there wasn’t a group for the Asian and Pacific Islander community.
“I’m used to being one of few or if not the only Asian person,” Yeap said. “And it felt like in that moment, it was more of the same.”
So she did something about it.
“The thought to create a community started from day one as an intern to when I joined the company as a full-time employee,” Yeap said. “I really cared about inclusion and diversity, but I could tell there were a lot of hurdles we would have to get past to get to where we wanted to be.”
She began asking around to learn how to start a group and get people on board. Along the way, she found others with the same goals, and they began working together. When COVID-19 began and incidents of Asian hate escalated, they were more fueled than ever to create a safe community. In 2021, the Asian and Pacific Islander resource group, Asian Pacific Excellence or APEX, was created, and the community she hoped for as an intern became a reality. While she created this group to help others, she learned a lot about her own culture, too.
Based in Knoxville, Tennessee, Yeap is a senior data scientist and analytics translator. She works with a technical team to create analytical tools that help Eastman make informed business decisions by translating complex data into easy-to-understand, actionable insights. While her work focuses on numbers, her passion lies in human connections.
Growing up in Tennessee as a Chinese American, Yeap did not often see people who look like her. That’s why her first day as a data consultant intern in 2018 was nothing new.
One year after starting her full-time position at Eastman, COVID hit, leading to an increase in hate and violence against Asians and Pacific Islanders across the United States. She felt it was time to do something to support the community.
At Eastman, Yeap wasn’t the only person who wanted a safe space for the Asian and Pacific Islander community. Sen Li, a technology manager in Kingsport, along with four other cofounders, worked together to launch APEX in May 2021, making it the newest ERG.
APEX was created to educate, connect and celebrate people in that community. From students to employees, APEX plans community outreach, cultural events, educational chats and trivia events for people to learn about each other’s culture. They also help each other better navigate their careers.
As co-leads, Li and Yeap work with APEX members to communicate with Eastman executives and connect with people to bring APEX ideas to life — while also juggling their daily roles.
“With our busy jobs in IT and technology, the growth of APEX was a challenging job,” Li said. “I am glad that we could back up each other, share different opinions and visions, mentor members and grow leadership in APEX.”
Embracing her culture
While Yeap cofounded APEX to help others, this journey has helped her develop and grow professionally and personally
“APEX has been great from a professional standpoint to develop my skills, gain more visibility, build my network and think strategically. But, on a deeply personal level, it's allowed me to be who I actually am — who I’ve tried to ignore for a long time,” she said. “APEX has really helped me tenfold to embrace my identity and better understand my community because I didn’t really get to grow up with the large Asian community. The best benefit of all is that I am able to actually embrace my culture. Now, I actively consume Asian media like movies, music, TV shows, books and local cultural events.”
Yeap originally started on a path toward medical school. As a business major at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK), she took all the med school prerequisites. Then, she followed her passion to study data science and completed her master’s degree in business analytics at UTK. During her four years at Eastman, she has been promoted twice while co-leading APEX for two of those years.
“I've done a lot for APEX, but there’s been a whole team behind me and Sen, as well,” Yeap said. “I definitely want to acknowledge the team because APEX would not be here without them. I've just been a small piece to that puzzle.”
She hopes to continue expanding APEX, reaching out and connecting employees from all parts of Eastman, focusing on global manufacturing teams as well as employees in the Asia Pacific region.
Through APEX, Yeap continues to connect with the community and students to discuss what’s possible because sometimes, to create change, it can be just as simple as being present.
“At the end of a presentation I gave to college students a few months ago, some students approached me saying how empowering it is to see a strong Asian female professional in a STEM field,” Yeap said. “Though I’m early in my career, it made me realize how much presence and impact you can hold in these small engagements and how early we are still viewed as strong mentors. Ultimately, representation and seeing yourself matters.”