Albert Wei doesn’t want to solve problems—he wants to eliminate the possibility of those problems ever arising in the first place. As the chief strategist for a local educational nonprofit, Wei knows there are so many barriers when it comes to giving children a quality education, and he wants to make those barriers a thing of the past.
And his weapon of choice? Data.
Wei, an openly gay man, was born in Taiwan and grew up in West Covina, California, a sleepy Los Angeles suburb made popular by the Netflix series My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. He studied political science and sociology at Rice University, and settled in Houston after graduating. “My time was chiefly spent doing things outside the classroom, such as working in inner-city schools, creating programming for my peers as a health advisor, and serving on student government,” Wei explains, noting that he had a blast working in the community because it was an investment in his chosen new home.
As the chief strategy and growth officer at ProUnitas Inc., Wei manages the nonprofit’s self-created tech platform and provides his programs team with support in improving it. “I also build our individual-giving portfolio and write grants, handle our messaging, and recruit new talent to be added to our team when needed.”
I really wanted to address society’s ills through a preventative approach rather than a reactionary one, and education always emerged as a strong solution to this.
It only makes sense that Houston is where Wei would land, career-wise. In high school and college, Wei was heavily involved in service and found that he gravitated toward education. “Through my college studies, I really wanted to address society’s ills through a preventative approach rather than a reactionary one, and education always emerged as a strong solution to this.”
After graduating from Rice, Wei joined the Teach For America Houston Corps and taught government and economics at Sharpstown High School, one of the four lowest-performing high schools in Houston at the time. He then taught abroad in Taiwan for a year on a Fulbright grant, in order to find ways to merge Eastern and Western approaches to education. After returning to Sharpstown High School, he served as a college-admissions counselor, getting Sharpstown students into universities like Tulane, Swarthmore, Reed, and Howard with over $8 million in scholarships and grants.
Wei says that seeing a lot of the systemic failures in education on the ground made him think about how we can be better about serving students’ holistic needs. “My best friend in Teach For America, Adeeb Barqawi, launched ProUnitas as a solution to the issues we experienced in the classroom. Now I have the privilege of ensuring that school districts’ student-support departments can [better connect students to] holistic services through a multifaceted approach [that involves] consulting and tech tools. [I help] district leaders gauge demand for services and advise school districts on how to fill these gaps in housing, mental health, nutrition, mentoring, etc.
“I am incredibly grateful to be able to do this important work with an incredible team, blending in the tech [to foster] social justice and education equity. Nothing beats waking up with such purpose [each day—helping] our most disadvantaged kids get the resources they need to be successful in school and beyond,” Wei says.
Being from a Taiwanese family is incredibly important to Wei as he learns more about what it means to embrace different cultural identities. “Culturally, I feel like I grew up very American, but [my Taiwanese roots] really color how I problem-solve, how I express myself, what foods I crave, and what expectations I have for myself,” he explains.
Wei particularly loves the fact that he is bilingual. “I love being able to speak Mandarin, and believe that speaking another language is like having another soul. It rewires the brain to think in more multifaceted ways. I am particularly close with my parents, who are honestly some of the funniest people ever. They raised me to ask big questions, fall often and fall forward, and to always focus on the big picture.” Wei is committed to honoring his parents as “beautiful representations of Taiwanese heritage. I was always the kid that pointed out my parents if they ever came to a school event.” Wei was honored to have recently been interviewed for the Houston Asian American Archives (HAAA) in an effort to preserve the history of the Asian community experience in Houston.
Committed to making the nonprofit world more data-driven, Wei is passionate about monitoring the impact that his holistic support work has on students’ academic outcomes. “This allows teachers to finally teach,” Wei explains, “[as they leave the non-academic issues] with someone more qualified and with more capacity to serve each student’s holistic needs.”
Wei says he is brimming with gratitude for the tremendous Houston community he calls home. “At the end of the day, I stand on the shoulders of giants. I hope to continue sharing my stories, as well as listening to the stories of others, in an effort to build empathy, compassion, and love for all people.”
For more information on Albert Wei and ProUnitas, visit prounitas.org.
This article appears in the May 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.