by Kayla Huynh
As a first-generation college student, Wendy Hoang wants to show other high school students that college is an attainable goal.
The incoming senior at UW–Madison has managed to make that mission possible through the creation of a high school outreach program for Madison East High School. The event brings 20 to 30 local high school students — specifically first-generation college students and students of color — to visit the UW–Madison campus.
“It was important for me to show these students that there are spaces on campus where students of color and people from underrepresented groups can feel safe and comfortable,” Hoang said.
And Hoang’s community service leadership has not gone unnoticed — she was recently honored into the Newman Civic Fellowship cohort, a yearlong program organized by Campus Compact, which recognizes students who are invested in finding solutions to challenges facing communities throughout the country.
Fellows are nominated by university presidents and chancellors to acknowledge motivation and potential in public leadership. The students are also given access to learning opportunities, networking events and mentoring.
Hoang was nominated by UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank for her high school outreach program in particular.
The annual event was initiated by Hoang during her freshman year at UW–Madison and is in partnership with the Chancellor’s and Powers-Knapp cohort, a scholarship program that recognizes UW–Madison students who have historically underrepresented identities.
According to Blank, Hoang’s program allows high school students to make personal connections, as well as gain valuable insight from college students who have shared similar experiences as them.
“The high schoolers are able to learn about different majors, financial affordability, and what it is really like to be a student of color on a predominantly white college campus,” Blank said.
As a graduate of Madison East High School, Hoang said she feels a personal responsibility to help the students at her alma mater and beyond.
“It was really important for me to give them an opportunity to see what it’s like to come here and to engage with people who have gone through what they’re going through now,” she said. “I want to show them that there are students of color here, and you don’t have to be afraid to go to a big school or a predominantly white campus — there are avenues for you to succeed.”
Hoang’s parents, who were refugees, instilled values of perseverance and determination in her, something she said gave her motivation to advocate for disadvantaged students and other young people of color.
“I want to initiate social change in the community to further include marginalized and underrepresented groups,” Hoang said.
During her year as a Newman Civic Fellow, Hoang will be working with the Office of Student Financial Aid and the Morgridge Center for Public Service in an effort to expand her initiative.
According to Hoang, she feels particularly proud when she is able to make a meaningful connection to the students who participate in the event.
“I’ve heard from high school teachers saying the students think it’s one of the most fun field trips they’ve been on and that they want to come back again next year,” she said. “I’m really proud of this because I think the students have really gotten a lot out of it.”
The volunteers are encouraged to exchange contact information with the high school students so they can reach out whenever they need help with the college transition or admissions process.
Hoang said she still keeps in touch with some of the students who have participated in the program and is currently training other underclassmen in her scholarship cohort to continue the event after she graduates next year.
“I want to support people who are just like me and to show them that educational achievement is possible,” Hoang said. “I hope this program is going to extend beyond me for many years.”