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First-generation student Pa Chai Yang hopes to guide troubled youth 

January 26, 2023
UWSP student Pa Chai Yang
Pa Chai Yang, a senior from Milwaukee majoring in sociology and international studies, is the first in her family to attend college. Here, she prepares name badges for a Continuing Education conference, where she works part-time on campus.

As senior Pa Chai Yang works toward completing her degree at UW-Stevens Point, her goal is to succeed in a career path that brings her joy and to bring a sense of pride to her father. 

Yang is the first generation in her Milwaukee area family to attend college. Her dad, who works in manufacturing, consistently encouraged her to pursue a college education. The family moved from Thailand to Milwaukee when Yang was about age three. She was able to learn about her culture, including Hmong reading and writing, by attending a small college prep K-12 school, with other Hmong students. The charter school also emphasized the value of post-secondary education.  

She chose to enroll at UW-Stevens Point after touring and attending a multi-cultural leadership conference at UWSP. The “homey” smaller campus appealed to her as did the manageable distance home. In her first year as a student, she made frequent visits to Milwaukee to reconnect with her supportive dad and family in Milwaukee.    

“He has been comforting,” she said. 

Yang shares her achievements with her father, such as making the Dean’s List last semester. Yet, she prefers not to involve her dad in the more challenging aspects of college life, such as managing her schedule and assignments. For that, the sociology and international studies major forges her own path.  

“I take breaks when I need to if I’m feeling stressed,” she said. “I communicate with my professors, and they are really understanding.” 

Yang has demonstrated a concern for those who are marginalized in society, particularly youth, said David Chunyu, sociology professor. Her work in his research methods class will study the potential developmental impacts of social media use on youth mental health. 

Taking courses in sociology, such as criminal justice and deviance, sparked Yang’s interest in supporting troubled youth. She hopes to work abroad some day in poverty-stricken areas of the world. She will pursue work initially in social services related to youth and perhaps enroll in graduate school. 

On campus, Yang has been involved with the Hmong and Southeast Asian American Club. It hosts fundraisers and hangouts with other student organizations, along with a yearly dinner and winter formal. She also assists with communications and office support in the UWSP Continuing Education and Outreach office, working up to 25 hours a week. She helps plan conferences around the state. 

When Yang needs a break from courses and work, she likes to hike in Schmeeckle Reserve.  

“College takes a lot of flexibility, commitment and responsibility,” she said.  

It can be tough trying to balance everything, Yang said. Her advice to new students, especially first-generation students is to realize it’s normal to feel “you’re not doing enough” or to feel drained and tired. Reach out for help in any circle that feels like family, she suggests. 

Yang will complete her degree in May, the same time as her cousin, also enrolled in the UW System. Commencement will provide a momentous reason to celebrate, and she expects a large multi-generational party. “It will be a big celebration,” she said.