Pawat Suntharanund is a 20-year-old senior at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign studying Information Systems & Information Technology. Born in Chicago, Pawat grew up as an active member of the Thai American community. His parents have been members of the Asian American Coalition of Chicago since 1990 and co-founded the Thai Cultural and Fine Arts Institute of Illinois, whose goal is to promote the Thai culture through Thai classical dance and music to not only Thai Americans, but also to those who wish to learn more about the Thai culture. Using the skills gained from these experiences, Pawat has continued to promote Thai culture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Presently, he is the president of the Thai Student Association at UIUC and the outreach coordinator for the Asian Pacific American Coalition. He has organized events such as cultural festivals and multi-university Thai sports programs. A project he helped begin uses social media as a platform for Asian Pacific Islander community members to share their stories in an effort to reverse the stigma of the model minority; the project has been successful and reaches over 20,000 people weekly. In addition to his involvement with the Thai and other Asian communities on campus, Pawat spent one summer in China volunteering as an English teacher to children in rural areas and engaged in cross cultural learning. He loves being involved in the community because he believes that it keeps the community strong and sets an example for the next generation.