Faculty Research Profile
Dr. Jack Fong
B.A. in Communications from Cal Poly Pomona
M.A. in Sociology from San Jose State
Ph.D. in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz
Associate Professor in the department of Psychology and Sociology
at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Dr. Fong's parents met in the wake of political revolution - his father left China after the nationalist side, the side he was fighting on, lost the revolution and found himself in Vietnam where he met Dr. Fong's mother. Much like Dr. Fong's father, she opposed the communism that was budding in Vietnam at the time and soon the two fell in love. After it became apparent to Dr. Fong's father that South Vietnam might lose the Vietnam War, he took his family and left the country. On the way to Thailand, Dr. Fong's mother went into labor and the plane was diverted to Laos, where Dr. Fong was born. Eventually the family made their way over to Bangkok, Thailand where Dr. Fong grew up. Dr. Fong didn't come to the United States until the 1980's and notes that "a lot of people assume that I was born here because my English has no accent" due to the strict English Catholic school in Thailand he attended before coming the U.S.
Once in the U.S., Dr. Fong notes that he experienced culture shock that "last well into my teens. I didn't know what collecting baseball cards were about - I didn't get the concept of music videos, of NFL football. Cereal to me was just about the coolest thing I've ever experienced. Cereal for me when I first saw it at a market was like drinking candy with milk. So a lot of things, basically, transitioned me towards being an American in ways that, because of my English capacity, made it fast but made it difficult because I was quickly unable to connect to my roots anymore." In addition to culture shock, Dr. Fong notes that his family struggled financially while he was a teenager. "Being a first-generation immigrant in the U.S. was being poverty stricken. My mom could not get a job because she couldn't speak English and she only had an eighth grade education. My dad, in the air force, had only a high school education. So neither parent had any skills in the 1980s when I arrived that would make them competitive in the marketplace. Although we lived in a house that a lot of relatives helped us buy, we were poor."
Dr. Fong came to Cal Poly Pomona as an undergraduate in communications. He saw himself as a "nine-to-fiver" and not as someone who would continue on in education. His goal was an office job and a pay check – until he took an urban sociology course his senior year of college, just before graduation. During the course, the professor took the students on a field trip to Los Angeles right after the L.A. riots of 1992 occurred. It was an experience Dr. Fong has never forgotten. "The professor of the course at the time took it upon himself to organize a field trip to south Los Angeles four days after the riots ended and it was there that I saw national guard troops patrolling the streets. I thought to myself wow, this is like the war-torn environment that my parents fled. That was very surreal for me because up until then America for me was like Disneyland. Everyone had their freedom and they were doing their own thing and suddenly we took this field trip and it made me realize that I needed to learn how to read my society. During that field trip, the professor reinforced that idea, he said that you could learn how to read a society like it was a book - like it was a sort of book that you could open and there's a method for that. And I thought wow, I like this sociology thing."
With a new passion for sociology, Dr. Fong decided to pursue a master's degree, but his GPA as a communications major made obtaining letters of recommendation difficult for him. "When I was an undergrad here, I was such a party animal that I never visited my professors. I never knew them and they never knew me. I had to beg for letters of recommendation. With my very lackluster GPA few of them wanted to write letters to me so I had to make promises. I said I'll send you my first semester transcript if you write this letter to show you that I am serious about leaving communications behind and going into sociology. And I did, and I think that won them over." Once in a sociology graduate program, Dr. Fong flourished. "when I pursued graduate school I did it with tremendous fervor and I got straight A's, which is horrifying because when I graduated from Cal Poly I got a lot of C's but when I got my first MA at San Jose State with straight A's, when I got into the PhD program at the UC it was basically straight A's. And that's when I realized that this was my calling - that there's something here for me to tap into and I ran with it and this is where I am today, a sociologist."
At first, Dr. Fong's parents didn't understand his pursuit of a sociology degree. "At that time I was under tremendous pressure because, as a son in my family, my mom wanted me to work…When I told my parents, now mom and dad, I'm going to go to grad school and study sociology, my dad said what is that? They didn't even know what sociology was. I told them it was the study of society. My mom was like so is it like philosophy? And I said no, it's not like philosophy because it requires a methodology that scientists use so we tried to study society very systematically. My dad's first question was can you feed your family with this? And at that time, I thought yeah, being a professor, you can make big bucks (I was wrong!) but I told him at the time I thought so." But over time, Dr. Fong's parents became supportive of the work he does. "By the time I graduated, I told them what I studied and what I did research in and they finally got it. So now my parents are absolutely proud and they know about sociology and they'll say this is my son here. He wasn't the best teen but he's a professor now."
As an undergraduate, Dr. Fong didn't engage in any research at Cal Poly Pomona nor did he have any mentors, but in graduate school he realized the importance of both. Now as a professor, Dr. Fong mentors undergraduate students from students working on their capstone projects to McNair Scholars. Dr. Fong is proud of his mentoring style and states that he doesn't "police" his students nor does he "pose strict time management on them." He elaborates that "when I have a meeting of the minds with someone I'm mentoring, I let them sort out the time management and the work ethic, but I am deadline driven. You can write whatever you want if it's well written and intelligently argued, but if you say you're going to submit it, it must be done. In that regard, I'm pretty strict."