Asian Faculty and Staff Association Honors Social Work Grad Student

White professional woman with Asian American student.

Helen Bader School of Social Welfare Dean Tina Freiburger and social work graduate student Choua Vang.

By Kathy Quirk
Photos courtesy of Choua Vang

Choua Vang has come a long way in her quest for a university education and a career in social work.

Vang, who was born in Thailand, received this year’s Swarnjit S. Arora Award, from the Asian Faculty and Staff Association at a celebration Friday, Feb. 24. Arora is a professor emeritus of economics who served on the UWM faculty for 45 years before his retirement in 2018.

Vang is a graduate student in the Social Work program, and received the Graduate Student Achievement Award in Social Work from the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare in 2022.

The Asian Faculty and Staff Association chose Vang for the award because of her academic achievements and volunteer work, especially in the Hmong community. In addition to her studies, she is a graduate program assistant in the Southeast Asian American Student Center and is active on campus. She is set to graduate in the fall of 2023 with her master’s degree in social work and a certificate in trauma-informed care.  

Social work graduate student Choua Vang and Professor Emeritus Swarnjit S. Arora.

“When I did my first field placement at Pathfinder,” she said, “I worked a lot with young people who have had traumatic experiences. I thought in the field of social work it was really good to know how to provide trauma-informed care.”

Vang’s Hmong family moved to Thailand in the aftermath of the “Secret War” in Laos, in which the Hmong fought for the United States. They came to Green Bay as refugees when she was five years old. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communication and media studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and decided to earn her master’s degree at UWM because she liked the diversity of the campus and city.

“Milwaukee has a large population that are marginalized, and I felt I could help support that population.”

Her family has been supportive, she said, adding she hopes to be an example for her siblings. “Being the first person in my family to graduate and attend graduate school, I have also created a path and inspiration for my siblings to pursue higher education.”

She has four siblings. Her older brother Pao Vang and two younger sisters, Mai Xiong Vang and Mai Nou Vang, are at UW-Stout. Her youngest sister just transferred from UW-Oshkosh to UWM this semester.

She has two possible goals in mind for after graduation, Vang said. One would be to get her school social work license and work in a school, helping students succeed. The other would be to go on for a doctorate in either social work or higher education administration.

The faculty members she had at both UWM and Stevens Point were an inspiration, she said. “They were all really passionate about what they do … not tired or burned out even after many years in the field. I want to be that passionate about helping the community.”