Stephanie Yeap’s (HCB, ’16, MSBA, ’18) busy academic career at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business included an internship at Eastman, a global specialty materials company. Her performance led the company to offer her a full-time supply chain analytics project manager position in 2019. She has since been promoted to analytics translator and senior data scientist. Career advancement, however, is not all Yeap has achieved during her time with Eastman — she has also committed herself to improving culture and promoting diversity.
Founding APEX: Fostering Community and Empowering Change
Eastman has several Eastman Resource Groups (ERGs), which promote “an inclusive culture and help underrepresented groups grow professionally.” When Yeap began her career with the company, she learned these ERGs existed, but discovered none served the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. That void led Yeap to help establish the Eastman resource group, Asian Pacific Excellence (APEX) in 2021.
“I co-founded APEX to give the Asian and Pacific Islander community a voice at Eastman and provide a supportive community during challenging times,” Yeap says.
With APEX, Yeap aimed to drive inclusion through empowering and developing people, bridging cultural gaps and growing leadership. The results are impressive. Yeap has overseen the creation of mental health awareness programs, speed networking for new hires, outreach programs to local schools and communities, cultural festivals and much more. In less than two years, APEX has grown to include 500 members, with 45 team leaders and volunteers around the globe.
Group Members Laud Yeap’s APEX Achievements
APEX members applaud Yeap’s leadership, commitment and compassion. Soma Mukherjee, a senior research scientist at Eastman, cites Yeap’s creation of platforms that allow APEX members to tell company leaders their success stories, as well as her engagement of company leadership to analyze gaps in AAPI employees’ career development. As a result, APEX members can include their ERG ambitions in annual personal performance goals to show APEX’s contributions to the company’s performance.
“Also, by enabling APEX members to connect with the AAPI community through events, festival celebrations and discussions, Stephanie helped build a psychologically safer and more open work environment for our AAPI colleagues,” Mukherjee says.
Geetha Daparthi, a senior system analyst, says, “Her participation and time commitment to Eastman’s diversity and inclusion effort is a lot to do for one person, but Stephanie’s passion enables her to accomplish what she sets out to do. She is highly organized and stretches beyond her comfort level to lend a helping hand. When she senses someone needs help, she jumps in without being asked. She also has a kind heart, and she takes time to appreciate and celebrate the success of others.”
Professional Growth via a Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion
Yeap’s supervisor, Michael Welty IT Data Science manager, says she has grown professionally through her work with APEX.
“Stephanie’s role as co-chair of the APEX resource group has had a significant impact on the quality of her work,” Welty says. “Her leadership skills and commitment to diversity and inclusion are evident in her contributions to fostering a supportive and inclusive work environment.”
In conjunction with her professional development, Yeap discovered how her culture and upbringing influence her work style and professional aspirations. Now, she strives to raise awareness of how leadership traits can differ culturally and to challenge the traditional standards of what makes a “good” leader.
“Seeing my APEX team members transform from doubting their leadership abilities to embracing new career possibilities is incredibly rewarding,” Yeap says. “This is the change we strive for, and I’m honored to be an example of how young API professionals can become the next generation of leaders.”
“Skills to Solve Any Problem”
Her training at Haslam contributed to Yeap’s success with APEX. She credits the college’s group projects and public speaking classes for sharpening her soft skills.
“These experiences cultivated my leadership, strategic thinking and stakeholder communication abilities,” she says. “Mastering the art of public speaking and persuasion is vital for success.”
“Haslam’s diverse curriculum empowered me to tackle a wide range of challenges confidently,” Yeap says. “I have the skills to solve any problem that comes my way.”
As an analytics translator and senior data scientist, Yeap bridges the gap between business needs and analytical solutions. She links Eastman’s business and technical teams, ensuring the right tools are developed to drive better decision-making.
“The breadth of business and technical knowledge I gained at Haslam enables me to quickly understand end-user requirements and envision optimal solutions,” she says. “While technical fields can often emphasize perfection and intricate details, Haslam helped me understand the importance of the 80/20 principle. I focus on what brings the most value to the business, gets team members motivated and drives analytics solutions to the right goals.”
Future Aspirations, Past Appreciation
Yeap is proud of her fulfilling work in her current role, but she also has ambitions for her future. She aspires to lead a large organization or found her own company.
“I want to be in a position where I can create vision and strategy and empower teams to make it come to life,” she says.
Even as she looks forward, Yeap casts a thankful look back to those who helped her on her path.
“I am a first-generation college student, and as I progress in my career, I now realize how having a supportive network of mentors can elevate your career,” Yeap says. “I had some great mentors at Haslam, and I know I am more successful today because of their guidance and support.”
Ernie Cadotte, Haslam Emeritus Professor of Innovative Learning, was one of those mentors. Of Yeap, he says, “Stephanie was a great research assistant, one of the best that I have ever had. I am happy she is getting this level of recognition for her work.”
Bearing a Torch for a New Generation
Embodying the Volunteer spirit, Yeap is paying it forward by mentoring young professionals. She has returned to UT to share her experiences and offer professional advice with Haslam students and several student organizations. She tells her audiences to cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit and stay true to themselves while empowering others.
“Balance self-advocacy with recognizing and supporting your team members to create authenticity and trust,” Yeap says. “This will lead to long-term rewards that you never thought possible.”
Scott McNutt, business writer/publicist, email@example.com