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Why this ‘Queen of Ohio’ stays up late in Hong Kong

Board member S. Alice Mong ’86 is committed to paying forward Buckeye kindness and building understanding across communities.

A Taiwanese woman with chin-length hair stands comfortably and confidently with a smile that lights up her face.

S. Alice Mong ’86 serves as executive director of the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, a global nonprofit organization. (Photo by Jodi Miller)

While in Hong Kong on a direct appointment from Ohio’s then-Gov. George Voinovich — as the youngest managing director of an international office — S. Alice Mong ’86 was invited to meet with a U.S. congressional delegation led by Sen. John Glenn.

The gathering was attended by others Mong knew from her work with the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, though she was earlier in her career than most. When Glenn put his arm around her, turned to her colleagues and introduced her as the “Queen of Ohio,” her standing in the group was instantly and forever elevated.

“He was an idol for these gentlemen. They all grew up watching and admiring him,” Mong says. “It was just Sen. Glenn, that kindness. To me, that’s Ohio kindness. I tell my friends in Hong Kong about Ohio hospitality.”

Wherever she has gone in her career, from New York City to Hong Kong in government, private-sector and nonprofit roles, Mong, now executive director of the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, has continued to sing Ohio’s praises.

  • Q How did your Ohio State journey begin?
    A

    A family friend, we called him Uncle Lin, earned a degree in agricultural economics from Ohio State, and we looked up to him. In my father’s mind, Ohio State would be where I went, too. When our family had an opportunity to open a restaurant in Mansfield, Ohio, we moved there from Maryland. We had immigrated to the United States from Taiwan when I was 10.

    I started at Ohio State’s Mansfield campus. The professors were wonderful, and I was able to work. At one point, I had three jobs at a Chinese restaurant to earn tuition. Being studious paid off, too, and I received the Morrill Scholarship, which helped tremendously.

    I think my father’s proudest moment was when I graduated and my grandmother came from Taiwan. I was the first on both sides of my family to earn a university degree.

  • Q How did your time at Ohio State influence your career trajectory?
    A

    On the Columbus campus, doing work-study at the Office of International Studies inspired me to switch my major. It was interdisciplinary, incorporating economics and history, and opened up my horizons. My love for the arts, now a focus of my work, was extracurricular.

    I took advantage of student tickets, spending a lot of time at Drake Union and Mershon Auditorium, enjoying the wonderful theatre department and musical performances. What I am doing today, promoting business and policy, arts and culture, and education — I think the genesis of this was my Ohio State experience.

  • Q What has your time on the board been like?
    A

    I had been involved with the Hong Kong Alumni Club, but when I talked to Molly Ranz Calhoun about joining the board, I was kind of in shock and honored to be invited. Bernie Savarese was a good guide as I navigated the role virtually, and as the only member living outside of the U.S.

    Serving on the alumni awards committee has been really interesting. Reviewing nominations submitted on behalf of remarkable alumni like these is no easy task. We deliberated for two hours, and it was the middle of the night for me. Moving forward, I would love to make it even more of a global celebration of Buckeyes. I know firsthand that the scarlet and gray spirit is in Asia, and the Alumni Club of Indonesia was so deserving of this year’s E. Gordon Gee Spirit of Ohio State Award.

  • Q What inspires you in your current role?
    A

    Looking back, after my initial goal to become a journalist, I wanted to be a diplomat. Now, at the Asia Society, from starting a virtual series featuring infectious disease and public health experts early in the pandemic, to hosting a film series sponsored by consulates, I am bringing in aspects of both professions. These programs foster appreciation of other perspectives and bring people together. It’s about understanding each other. Institutions like universities, like the Asia Society — we’re bridge builders.

  • Q How are you keeping Buckeyes connected?
    A

    One of the ways I’ve bonded with Buckeyes is around food. I think back to living in Lincoln Tower. I would come back from weekends at home with so much Chinese food. My parents were afraid I was going to starve! I fed my entire suite and found myself quite popular. Having that tribe was special.

    At the Asia Society, we continue this. We have a lot of expats, and for our Hong Kong Thanksgiving and Christmas, our café offers the full menu — turkey, stuffing and pies. We have Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday and then, with the 13-hour time difference, stay up to watch the Michigan game in the early hours of the morning. The first year, we had about 80 people, triple what I expected, and it has become a wonderful tradition. We bring out all our Buckeye paraphernalia. Everyone is happy to see each other. Unlike some holiday meals, arguments don’t happen at our table — there’s no baggage in a Buckeye family!

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