Celina Lee – CUP Fellow Spotlight

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field? What is the biggest challenge of your work?

I am the Business Development Director and General Counsel at AKAStudy, a startup that develops artificial intelligence engine to create innovative educational services and software.

Our mission is to build technology to help people learn and communicate better, and to reduce the education and achievement gap by providing better learning tools with the aid of technology.

I started my career in finance as an investment banker and also worked as a corporate attorney at a big law firm.

Over the years, I learned that I get the most excited about the creative journey of turning a vision and an idea into a reality, and decided to join a startup.

The biggest challenge (and also the most fun part) of my work is that I wear many many hats for the company. I do everything from legal work to building partnerships, managing corporate & investor relations, PR, marketing, fundraising, etc. This means my day is never the same and I'm always learning something new because I have to figure things out to get things done.

Working at a startup also means I have limited resources and time but it teaches me to think about and come up with creative solutions to solve problems.


What is your proudest achievement?

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to have a book with my name on it.  It was one of my childhood dreams. I think I was in third grade when I attempted writing my first novel and showed it to my mom.

A few years ago, I achieved my childhood dream of writing and publishing my book. It was one of the most difficult but also one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences of my life.

The book is about the stories of nine people I have met in nine different professions who have pursued their passions, and their stories of overcoming failure to achieve success and live their dreams. By showing people that there isn’t a conventional path to achieving what we deem as success, I wanted to inspire and encourage people to pursue their dreams. (For more information about my book http://paulsohn.org/an-interview-with-celina-lee-live-your-dream/)

I dedicated the10th chapter of my book for readers to write their own dreams to become part of the book. I have been grateful and touched by the responses I have received from readers who were inspired and encouraged by the stories in my book, and shared, sent and brought me in person their 10th chapter full of their dreams.

To help people achieve their dreams, I launched a community called the Give One Dream to create a community of people to share, encourage, and inspire, and help one another to achieve our dreams together. http://www.giveonedream.com/ourstory

Growing Give One Dream has been a challenging but also a rewarding experience, and I would be grateful for the support and encouragement from the CUP community! 🙂


What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?

Leaders with empathy and humility. I think only those who have experienced failures and struggles themselves can truly understand the struggles of others. It's rare to see successful people who are truly humble, and when I meet people who use their “success” to humbly serve others, I am really inspired.


Where do you see yourself in ten years?

One thing I learned from writing my book and meeting successful people in different industries is that life will never turn out the way we planned it. In fact, one person I wrote about in my book even told me "planning your life is absolutely useless."  It definitely holds true in my life since I never would have imagined ten years ago that I would be doing what I'm doing now.  So I have no idea what I'll be doing in ten years, but I hope to be working on something I find to be fun and meaningful.

One thing that I definitely hope (and plan!) to be doing in ten years is continuing to grow the Give One Dream community, so many more people's dreams can be realized.


Did you have a mentor or do you mentor someone else? How has that experience changed you?

I had many mentors throughout my life who encouraged, supported, and guided me to achieve different goals and dreams in my life.

There are people who helped me to get out of difficult situations and were there for me during some tough times. I call these people angels in my  life. I simply wouldn't be where I am in my life without them.

I will never be able to pay all of them back for what they have done, but I promised myself to always "pay forward" when I could be helpful to others.  Because I wrote a book about achieving dreams, many of my readers and friends reach out for advice, and I do my best to try to help them. I learned over the years, that listening, really listening to their stories often is enough to give them the strength and the courage to try again.

The experience of having mentors in my life and also being a mentor to others provided an inspiration for a creative solution for a challenge I faced with Give One Dream.

While planning Give One Dream events, I realized some people may not be able to afford the cost of the ticket due financial difficulty even though the ticket fee is only nominal. I came up with the idea of “Pay Forward tickets”  (http://www.giveonedream.com/pay-forward/) and made it possible for people to sponsor tickets for other people. Some people were initially skeptical and wondered if people would pay for tickets for others they don’t even know. I believed people would, and the number of “Pay Forward tickets” sold exceeded anyone’s expectations. As a result, many people including students going through financial and other difficulties were able to come to the events, and left feeling motivated and inspired.


What do you hope to gain from your CUP Fellows Program experience to help you make a significant and positive impact in your community?

I have been amazed and humbled by the fellows in my CUP Fellows program and look forward to learning from their experiences and stories. I recently needed help with something and as soon as I shared it with the fellows in the program, many of them reached out to help, and I was absolutely amazed by their generosity and willingness to help. I feel so lucky to be part of such an talented and amazing group!