By BRYAN THAO WORRA
AAP staff writer
Ketmani Kouanchao was born in Savannakhet, Laos and grew up in Minnesota. She recently graduated with a doctorate, specializing in the study of the recruitment, retention and matriculation of at-risk, low-income historically underserved students.
For over 16 years, she has worked at the university and community college levels including the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and currently serves as the director of EOPS/CARE programs at Mt. San Jacinto Community College in San Jacinto, California.
Kouanchao received her doctorate degree from California State University-Riverside on Community College Leadership. She has researched and presented workshops nationally on issues of cross-cultural leadership, women’s leadership, and leadership development – especially in communities of color, federal and state-funded programs, and the non-profit sector. Her passion is developing student support programs for students to achieve academic and lifelong success. Asian American Press had an opportunity to talk with her.
Asian American Press: How did you get started?
Ketmani Kouanchao: My mother was a teacher in Laos. She and my father always stressed education in our lives and the importance of giving back to our community. Even with cultural barriers as refugees, they worked hard so my brother, sisters and I all had access to the best opportunities we could have in Minnesota. They chose to live near the University of Minnesota so we would always see it as something that could be a part of our lives.
AAP: How does it feel to be getting your doctorate?
KK: There’s so much still yet to learn and discover. I feel like this is the fulfillment of a great promise to my family and myself, but it is also the beginning of a bigger journey.
AAP: Who were some of the people who influenced you?
KK: I am really drawn to Plato and his Allegory of the Cave because it parallels my philosophical belief that once exposed to learning, you will never be the same again. Vincent Tinto’s Supplemental Instruction and Learning Community also played an instrumental role in helping me identify and strategize my approach to overcoming barriers in my life. I appreciate great thinkers from many times and places.
AAP: Why did you chose the CSUF doctorate program?
KK: I was drawn to the CSUF doctorate program for many reasons. A good school works hard to ensure students are active learners with applied experience. Both Mt. San Jacinto College and CSU Fullerton were very supportive of my needs and my schedule.
AAP: Did anything surprise you in your research?
KK: I was surprised how little was known about the Lao and challenges we faced in education, even after almost 40 years in the US. Finding good, accurate research regarding our journeys to adapt, especially by Lao American researchers, was difficult.
AAP: What did you take away from your findings?
KK: While many of us were able to succeed, many also fell through the cracks. For many families, a college education still seems like a distant dream. I hope my work will highlight the importance of doing more to ensure students have better access to peers and mentors who understand their culture and their social goals. Even on campuses with multicultural services in place, more can be done to connect youth to culturally appropriate support.
AAP: Do you have any advice for other students thinking of pursuing college?
KK: It’s important for you not only to have a good network of friends and peers, but also mentors who will help you, not just in school but throughout your lifetime. The people you meet in college may become your lifelong friends. Don’t take things for granted. Keep an open mind and take initiative. Explore your interests and who you are. It’s ok not to know what you want to major in right away. Don’t just settle for a major that you think will make you quick money. You need to love what you do and learn. When you have passion you’re more likely to succeed. Also remember how much you can learn while you are also giving back to your community.