The Phillips Scholars Program is designed to support and encourage students who combine the potential for community leadership with a dedication to improving society. Students chosen for this program must have an excellent academic record, demonstrate financial need, have a history of campus leadership and community service, and a commitment to serve disadvantaged people through the implementation of a summer community service project. Since its inception in 1996, a University of St. Thomas student has been chosen each year as one of the five recipients. Last year’s awardee was Chengny Thao, who is currently a junior. Below are her reflections and the reflection of one of the participants in her community service project, “Hope for Young Hmong Women.”

By Chengny Thao

My name is Chengny Thao and I am a junior. Recently, I received the Phillips Scholarship from the Minnesota Private College Fund. This fund requires that each scholarship recipient complete a summer community service project.

As a Hmong woman, I have experienced the many cultural conflicts such as attending college, pursuing a nontraditional career and adjusting to the American environment. Thus, the Hope for Young Hmong Women program was created to encourage young Hmong women to overcome these conflicts. My role in this program is the program coordinator, curriculum writer and supervising authority.

Hope for Young Hmong Women is a four-week program designed to promote higher education, build self-esteem and bridge cultural differences. The program activities allow participants to explore college and career opportunities, tour professional work places, strengthen leadership skills and discuss cultural conflicts.

This program was very fortunate to be joined with Webster Open School’s day school program called Beacons. Working alongside with Beacons allowed the Hope program to use the school’s classrooms, art supplies, copy and fax machines, and busing.

The program consisted of five Webster Open School students between the ages of 13 and 14. Throughout the four weeks, we were able to engage in multiple activities. We toured the University of Minnesota and the University of St. Thomas. This allowed the girls to get an early idea of college life. They were able to see the residence halls, libraries and gymnasium, which they enjoyed very much. We met with Mee Moua, an attorney with Leonard, Street and Deinard, and See Vang Thao, an independent family lawyer. We also met with KaYing Hang, a refugee health coordinator for the state of Minnesota, and had actress, singer and theater arts professional Lee Vang speak to us. Visiting professional work places, having guest speakers and talking with professional Hmong women gave these girls a new perspective on life. The Hmong professionals all spoke about their responsibilities as Hmong women, their lives in college, professional careers and personal lives. These activities allowed the girls to reflect upon the speakers’ experiences and relate them to their own.

Here’s how Pang Lee, 13, described her experience in the Hope program:

“One important thing that I learned in the Hope program is marriage. Marrying very young is not good and it would be a lot of hard work. I learned a lot about marriage, like what it can do. For example, it can take away my dreams. I also learned more about my dreams and future career. Meeting with people gave me hope for the future. It gave me a sense of respect for myself. Even though I am a girl, I can always do what I want and follow my dreams. I learned that making the right decision is better. I always think well before doing it. I also learned more about the Hmong culture and more about the Hmong people and their lives in Laos. I learned things that can really help me in the future, and will make me very successful. What I also learned regards my values and goals. If I believe in my goals and myself, I will go far and be successful someday.

“I am very thankful for this program because it really helped me think about what is right or wrong so I can better my future. The program helped build more of my self-esteem. It tells me that even if I am a woman I can do things that many Hmong women in Laos did not get a chance to. This program gave me a lot of hope for the future. It taught me a lot about myself. It made me believe in my dreams. It gave a lot of ideas and advice about being a Hmong woman.”

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