Melody Vang

For St. Paul, Minn., native Melody Vang, coming to Winona State University to pursue her bachelor’s degree meant stepping outside her comfort zone and challenging herself in ways she never thought possible.

A first-generation student, Vang felt adrift in an unfamiliar campus setting. She had lots of questions and no one to answer them. She struggled to find resources for minorities and encountered microaggressions. She faced financial challenges, and had difficulty being away from home and feeling disconnected from her family.

“I remember sitting in the bathroom crying, feeling helpless as I called my sister, telling her I still had a lot left from my tuition to pay, and the due date was a week away,” she recalls.

Learning to balance her personal life and her academic life was hard, says Vang, and at one point she was almost placed on academic probation. But she remained committed to success and her own personal growth, and found ways to make it work.

“There were many challenges on my way to my degree, but I could not be more thankful for them,” says Vang, “because they have shaped me to become who I am today.”

To address her financial challenges, Vang applied for scholarships and received the Aliss Scholarship and the Mary Korn Rivet Scholarship. She secured a campus job in the Inclusion and Diversity Office and worked winter, summer, and spring breaks to make ends meet.Melody Vang

Mostly importantly, Vang made connections on campus. She joined the Hmong American Student Association club and became a board member her sophomore year. She became part of the Asian American Club. She found campus mentors like Alexander Hines, former director of WSU’s Inclusion and Diversity Office, and Robin Curran, the current office manager.

“Having a support system within these organizations and belonging to a community full of different cultures has made my experience unforgettable at WSU,” Vang says.

With a degree in Social Work and a minor in Criminal Justice, Vang plans to work to gain experience and skills at treatment centers and other agencies, and eventually become a Dispositional Advisor at a Public Defender’s Office. She says WSU helped her achieve this goal by having a great Social Work program and amazing professors.

But for Vang, the most important lesson learned during her time at WSU wasn’t necessarily something taught in the classroom: “The most important thing WSU taught me is to embrace and love who I am as a Hmong American woman, to never forget my roots and where I came from. It has taught me to never stop fighting for what I believe in.”

“I am proud to attend WSU because it forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. It made me take risks and challenges I thought I never would have taken,” she says. “I am proud to graduate from WSU because I want to let people know that even through socioeconomic circumstances and other obstacles in one’s life, you can and you will make it through college by learning that it is okay to ask for help, to ask questions, and utilize resources that are available, even if it may be limited. Don’t ever give up. As a Hmong American first-generation student, I am proud to graduate.”

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About Winona State University

Founded in 1858, Winona State University is a comprehensive, regional public university with approximately 8,000 students on campuses in Winona and Rochester. The oldest member of the Minnesota State system, WSU offers more than 80 undergraduate, pre-professional, licensure, graduate and doctorate programs in five colleges: Business, Education, Liberal Arts, Nursing & Health Sciences, and Science & Engineering. Winona State is ranked as the second public institution in Minnesota by U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges,” has been named among the “Best in the Midwest” by The Princeton Review for 15 years in a row, and has been featured as one of America’s 100 Best College Buys for quality and value for 23 consecutive years. The University generates $447.9 Million in economic impact for the region per year. The University’s mission is to enhance the intellectual, social, cultural and economic vitality of the people and communities we serve: a community of learners improving our world. For more information, visit