Pong Yang, second from left, is an applied engineering major and a scholarship recipient at Bemidji State University. He is pictured, from left, with his father Tom, child Wynston, wife Choua and mother Michelle. (Contributed)
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By Micah Friez

Published 3:00 p.m. on Feb. 20, 2024

Pong Yang’s journey to Bemidji State University began decades before he was born.

His path truly started with his parents, Tom and Michelle, who were refugee survivors of the Vietnam War. When Pong was young, he listened to their stories – how they fled horrors in Laos, trekked through the jungle and fled to Thailand in the late 1960s.

Tom and Michelle eventually moved to the United States in search of a better life for their children. Pong called their determination the “spark” that made him want to attend college, and he said donors are the ones who help ignite that passion.

“Education is really the key to live a good life here in America,” he said. “People who donate have an intention to help lower-class families or those who are in financial need. That really sets them apart from other individuals because they have a really bright heart. They see the struggles and don’t want people to struggle through that.”

Pong Yang's parents, Michelle and Tom (pictured here in 2000), are refugee survivors of the Vietnam War. (Contributed)
Pong Yang and his siblings at Fresno Hmong New Year in 1998. Pictured from left are France, Bee, Jenifer, Pong, Kyle, Pangnhia, Tou and Kong. (Contributed)

Yang is an online student at Bemidji State and is on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in applied engineering this spring. He’s also a recipient of the Marvin Windows and Doors Scholarship, which has supported his pursuit of the same kind of “better life” his parents first envisioned for him.

That’s why Day of Giving is so important at BSU, and why donors can change lives through their generosity. Day of Giving – an annual fundraising campaign at Bemidji State – is happening online today, Feb. 20. You can support students like Yang by clicking the button below to donate.

Support taking many forms

Yang started his collegiate path at Hennepin Technical College, a two-year school in Brooklyn Park. He latched on to BSU when he learned that his credits would transfer over and that he could do school remotely from the Twin Cities metro.

“As an online student, it has worked perfectly for me because I have a family and work full-time,” he said. “I have two boys, so it works really well.”

Yang is currently employed as a manufacturing engineer in a junior-level position and is excited about the prospect of advancement once he receives his hard-earned degree. Eventually, he wants to dive into the field of research and development.

“I want to work with R&D and go through all the innovation and brainstorming and developing of products,” he said. “I want to do the testings and validating, all that fun stuff. Once I graduate, that will obviously boost up my salary too. That would be a really great thing.”

Pong Yang and his wife, Choua, in 2017. (Contributed)

In the meantime, Yang said his scholarship has greatly helped alleviate a financial burden, particularly with textbooks. The extra dose of support better positions him to finish his last months of college – as well as being present as the best husband, son and father he can be for a family that’s helped him every step of the way.

“The support that I get is really great,” Yang said. “From my parents and especially my wife because she’s always there by my side. Without them, I probably wouldn’t even have the passion to continue with schoolwork on my down days.”

Of course, the determination in Yang’s DNA was forged all those years ago and thousands of miles away. His parents’ path may not be an enviable one, but they’ve transformed it into a legacy that makes the family tree flourish.

“They really sparked a light in me to go to college so that I can become something,” Yang said. “I want to pay it back for my parents because they went through all that hardship. Now that we’re here in the U.S., it’s my turn to return the favor to them.”

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