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Big Sky High School senior Iaong Vang is already on the way to achieving some of her goals upon graduating, spending time working on stem cell research at the University of Montana. The 4.0 student plans to attend UM for premed and a biochemistry degree, and from there to medical school.
If Iaong Vang’s parents had not immigrated to the U.S. from Laos, the Big Sky High School senior likely would not have been allowed to attend school, let alone be set to graduate Saturday.
“I take this seriously,” Vang said about partaking in opportunities offered to her through school.
Her father earned a mathematics degree despite a language barrier between English and Hmong, she said.
“I believe that I can do that as well because I’ve had more opportunities,” she added.
One opportunity has been to do research at the University of Montana, where she spends several hours two days a week in a lab working to control what stem cells grow into and how frequently they reproduce.
Chemistry and biology are her loves and avenues through which she hopes to change the world.
“It’s like a key I can open new doors with,” said Vang, who’s the second youngest of seven siblings.
The 4.0 student also has participated in the Key and Respect clubs, is president of Health Occupations Students of America and a member of the National Honor Society.
In the fall, she will attend UM for premed with the goal of earning a biochemistry degree.
After medical school, Vang said, she plans to be a pediatrician.
“I’ve always loved kids. It breaks my heart to see them sick,” she said.
Helping her sister as Bardet-Biedl syndrome has taken its toll on her body through the years, especially the past year, solidified Vang’s desire to go into medicine.
On Saturday, the sisters will earn their degrees at the same time and Vang said she’s glad to have been able to help Kouchi achieve her goal of graduation.
For several summers, Vang also volunteered as a tutor for kids with minority backgrounds.
Many of them also have Hmong heritage and it helps her reconnect with her roots, Vang said.
When she was young, Hmong was her first language. Now, though, she said she regrets losing fluency. Interacting with the younger children helps her remember, she said.
Vang also attends cultural activities and performs traditional dances.
“It’s something I can’t feel doing anything else and that’s why I love doing them,” she said.
Regardless of what Vang is doing at any given time, her attitude is positive and it’s that attitude that makes her a natural leader in the classroom, said Brandon Honzel, who has taught Vang in two science classes and helped connect her with UM.
“She gets along with everybody,” Honzel said, adding Vang regularly helps other classmates with research and problems.
Her positive attitude rubs off on other students and teachers alike, said Dave Jones, who has taught Vang three sections of chemistry.
“It carries over into just the oomph and drive she brings into the classroom,” Jones said.
When she hits a challenge, Vang doesn’t give up, he said. “She takes a step back and re-evaluates it and gets some perspective on it.”
Vang genuinely values learning new things, he said.
“She’s one of our best,” he added.
Vang said after medical school she ultimately would like to return to Missoula, where she has felt welcome in school and in the community, including when she helps her parents sell vegetables at the farmers market.
“It’s just a sense of welcoming,” she said.
Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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