Speaking Engagements  + Keynotes

"Sumi Pendakur’s story shows student activists can continue their work and even make a career out of their activism after graduation. She has opened my eyes, and I hope she opens the eyes of others in realizing that activism isn’t a dead-end path. If you continue to pursue it and continue to grow your knowledge and your basis, you can really establish yourself in the field of activism.”
                                                   Tiffany Chang, Student, Northwestern University


"I really want to thank Sumi for blessing our space with her gifts! The word forum seems to fall way short of defining what we experienced yesterday. We had standing room only for the entire three hours! The foundation she set was clearly one of the reasons why. I am sure this comes as no surprise and that Sumi have been told this before. This is Sumi’s calling and gift. Her cadence, command of theory and praxis, ability to fill a space, and clear connection with our faculty, staff, and students were simply awesome!”

Dr. William Franklin
Vice President for Student Affairs
CSU Dominiguez Hills


"I have seen and heard several keynote speeches throughout my career. Sumi Pendakur's speech at our NODA Region 2 conference was one of the few that actually drew me in, held my attention throughout, and more importantly, challenged my thinking and practice. Sumi was able to flawlessly weave in her knowledge and real life experiences of critical race theory, student development, and identity exploration with our association's work- new student orientation and transition to college. Specifically, she focused on how as orientation professionals and students, we need to infuse inclusivity and open-mindedness into everything we offer- from icebreakers, to language, to programming, and how in not doing so, we can create a space that is exclusive, unwelcoming, and not conducive to achieving success. Not only was I blown away by Sumi's style of delivery and insightful content, but I could tell the rest of the audience was equally excited and reflective. Sumi's keynote served as the perfect opening to our conference as it set the tone for why we were there and what we needed to focus on."

Chrissy Roth-Francis, Ed.D.
Director, New Student Services, University of California, Berkeley
Board Member, Association for Orientation, Transition and Retention in Higher Education



"I thoroughly enjoyed Sumi's keynote address. She touched on a lot of great concepts and ideas to put into practice all while being engaging and fun. She was also able to share a bit of her personal life which made the setting more comforting and it allowed me to feel more connected to her. She carried herself with great confidence and was not afraid to address the racism, institutional oppression, and marginalization of certain communities in society during her short time up on the podium. She did not rush that conversation and she presented the information so everyone could understand where she was coming from."

Ulises Garcia, Cal Student Orientation, Student Coordinator
University of California, Berkeley


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“Sumi Pendakur joined WoW (the Women of WACUHO) as a keynote at our annual drive in and she was a hit! Sumi brought her real, authentic self to the keynote, while simultaneously sharing important messages with our group. All day, participants were commenting on how much they appreciated Sumi’s keynote and authenticity, raving that she was the perfect way to start a day that was focused on women and leadership in student affairs! I would highly recommend Sumi to any organization looking for a keynote to touch upon women, leadership, social justice issues, and more – she brings her real self, critical engagement, humor, and more to her presentations!”

Piya Bose, Ph.D.
Director, Palo Verde, UC Irvine Student Housing


“We were thrilled to have Dr. Sumi Pendakur as the keynote speaker at Teach For America’s 2014 Asian American and Pacific Islander staff summit. Summit programming focused on AAPI history, community building, and bringing knowledge back to our daily work in the movement to spread educational opportunity to all students. Thus, we asked Dr. Pendakur to share why she focuses on work related to diversity and equity, as well as provide some historical context around the AAPI community in our country. Dr. Pendakur’s speech can be described in so many ways: entertaining, educational, dynamic, personal, heartfelt, jaw-dropping, and inspiring—the list goes on. She highlighted the history and origins of the term “Asian American”, how our community’s narrative has been developed and shaped by others, and the emergence of the “model minority” and why it’s a particularly harmful stereotype. As an organization that focuses on ensuring all children have access to great educational opportunities, her speech hit home with summit attendees and encouraged them to push their thinking around the need for disaggregated student data. Since the Summit, staff members have consistently cited her speech as one of the highlights of our programming and an inspirational call to action to action.”

Crystal Tang,
AAPI Staff Summit Chair (2014)


"Looking for a witty, charismatic and downright real educator than can connect students, faculty and staff? Dr. Sumun “Sumi” Pendakur should be at the top of your list! Talk about energetic, research based, rooted in real life ability to tap into the needs of a mixed constituency group. From the initial ask to keynote, Sumi was enthralled with gathering as much information as she could to prepare a dynamic presentation that was clearly designed for our group and not just a one size fits all model. Sumi was engaging and thought provoking, with the ability to utilize humor and passion to keep the audience engaged, a tough feat for a group of 250 + participants. As the first keynote to address issues of diversity and inclusion on our campus, Sumi presented with unique angles that blended the approaches necessary to engage with tough topics. The setting of clear guidelines and the sharing of her personal narrative rooted the conversation in mutual learning and understanding, which really led to a phenomenal start for our university as we begin to grapple with these ideas. I highly recommend you engage with this magnetic presenter and consider adding her to your presentation docket!"

Kristina Londy
Coordinator, Multicultural Center
CSU Dominguez Hills

Diversity and Inclusion Training

"I always appreciate the safe spaces Sumi creates for our team and the messages that are passed on. Her ability to take on such a touchy subject and present it in such a manner that is light hearted (when needed) yet gets the serious points across is admirable. Thank you again!"

Christine Harrison, Assistant Director of Advancement Services
Office of College Advancement at Harvey Mudd College


"I have not only witnessed Dr. Sumi Pendakur present and facilitate at a variety of events for students and staff at MIT but have had what I call the "Sumi Pendakur experience." She is such an excellent and dynamic speaker on diversity, equity, inclusion, and access not only in higher education but to the individual experience. She is able to take those topics and present in a way that engages the audience to dive deeper into the discussion and become active participants. She has a superb cross-cultural understanding and has been so well received by the MIT community. She is authentic, relatable and a class act. She is excellent at what she does and we are always looking forward to have her back on campus to present to various groups."

Julian S. Green
Program Director, Institute Community and Equity Office
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 


“Sumi has changed my life. Ever since my first year at USC, Sumi has been full of utmost generosity, humor, patience, intelligence, and mentorship. I first met her as a freshman student at USC, wandering around on campus, trying to figure out how to make sense of the beautiful, but intimidating campus. As I unknowingly passed by a welcome session by the Asian Pacific American Student Services, I was surprised by a bright and cheerful lady. This was the first time I met Sumi. She asked observant questions and completely persuaded me into applying for APASS's leadership program, Critical Issues in Race, Class, and Leadership Education. My experience with this wonderful program challenged my assumptions about society and my own identity--and helped me formulate a better understanding about how to serve my community and contribute to the social good. Through this experience, I took on a leadership role as a facilitator and teacher's assistant in CIRCLE, managed by Sumi, who is also a great teacher, and developed my skills in conflict resolution and dialogue. We addressed heavy issues related to poverty, Asian American identity, and people's personal life histories. Overall, Sumi's continual mentorship, good humor, and open door policy has been a critical piece to my successful and enriching college experience, helping me understand issues, both personal and social, through both the good times and bad. I hope that if I send my kids to USC many years from now, to see Sumi as a future college President!”

Daniel Wu
Harvard JD/PhD Student

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“I had the privilege of working with Sumi on two separate occasions. The first time, she had just been appointed Director and did not yet have an Assistant Director to help her do all the work of the APASS department. Even with her responsibilities, however, she still made sure we CIRCLE TAs knew her door was always open if we had questions or needed help. She served as a knowledgeable resource every week as we planned the course our discussions would take, and knew the answer to any question we might have. Even as she worked to strengthen existing programs, she never stopped thinking on how to improve. As such, she set quite a few goals for the APASS department that were inspiring to work towards. Sumi's greatest strength is her ability to inject the appropriate levity to any situation, to break the ice and get people to open up, but also while remaining professional at the core. For all these reasons, I consider Sumi one of my greatest role models.”

Angela Lee, China Affairs & General Counsel Intern at US Trade Representative
University of Southern California


"I cannot say enough great things about Dr. Sumun (Sumi) Pendakur. Sumi is well-versed in social justice, diversity, and equity issues. But what makes her truly amazing is her ability to take those concepts and make them accessible to the most skeptical of audience members. I've hired her to do several talks at MIT and she connects with the audience in the most impactful way. If you are looking for someone to help transform your students, your staff, your culture, Sumi is an amazing first step. Her words resonate with you long after her workshop is over."
Monica Orta, Assistant Director of MIT Media Labs (2015)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Capacity-Building for Non-Profits and Community Based Organizations

“Sumi recently led a workshop around diversity issues as part of Step Up’s annual national all-staff retreat. This workshop had 2 main purposes. One was to educate our staff around the social justice and equity issues in higher education today that are and will continue to affect the girls we work with in our programming. In addition to having an academic background in this area, Sumi also lives and breathes it every day in her role at Harvey Mudd, so she served as a wonderful resource – helping tie the big picture systemic issues at play with what it’s really like for a college student of color today. The second purpose of the workshop was to create dialogue amongst our staff about our approach to diversity going forward. Sumi is an effective and approachable facilitator. She deftly helped us create an environment for open dialogue that will serve as the foundation for us to continue having these important and sometimes tough conversations so that we can hold ourselves accountable to making real positive change. We look forward to continued collaboration with Sumi!”

Angie Franchino, VP, Operations & Fundraising Strategy
STEP UP: Inspiring Women to Inspire Girls

"Dr. Sumun Pendakur facilitated a strategic planning retreat for the Harbor Area Farmers Markets Advisory Board, of which I am the president. In my humble opinion, she did an outstanding job for the following reasons. 1. Dr. Pendakur was exceptionally well-prepared for the event. She conducted interviews of selected board members; she researched the organization; and, she was very collaborative with board members in planning the agenda for the event. 2. Dr. Pendakur involved the entire board in prioritizing retreat activities. She didn’t take over the retreat, but made us all feel welcome to offer our views, comments, and concerns. 3. She is collaborative by nature, very personable, and has a strong leadership presence. She knew when to take charge and move the agenda without making us feel rushed or uninvolved. 4. Dr. Pendakur is goal-oriented. We collaboratively established our goals for the retreat and then stayed on course to achieve those goals within the established time limits. 5. Overall, our board felt that she did an outstanding job as a retreat leader and facilitator and we strongly recommend her to do the same for other organizations."

Joel Colbert
Harbor Area Farmers Market