CSULB student overcomes challenges, earns scholarship
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 01:09
She had learned to live in a rough neighborhood, but one day her only goal was to not trip in her black high heels.
As she stood against the wall among 22 other students, a healthy dose of nervousness and excitement swirled inside her.
And then, finally — they called her name.
Serena Do, a public policy and administration graduate student at Cal State Long Beach, represented her campus Tuesday in the Cal State University award ceremony to receive the William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award.
Every year, the CSU honors one student from each campus with the Hearst Award for overcoming extreme adversity and acquiring extraordinary achievements.
Do grew up in a one bedroom apartment in East Los Angeles with six other extended family members. Her mother, a Khmer Rouge refugee, worked two jobs just to make ends meet. It was her mother who taught Do the value of education, she said.
“We are Chinese, so she stressed that in order for girls to do well, they have to out-perform boys in school,” Do said. “When I was very young, I remember sitting at a coffee table, just writing the alphabet hundreds of times.”
Do’s career at CSULB began when Mark Smith, former speech and debate coach, took her under his wing straight from high school and encouraged her to come to campus in 2006.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from CSULB with a double major in political science and international studies in 2011.
“Now, my aspirations in life changed,” Do said. “Instead of focusing on civic engagement or political activism, I’ve become really interested in basic healthcare. We need to cover the basics first before we can move on to different things.”
Do aspires to get her Ph.D. in public health and eventually working for the World Health Organization.
As an undergraduate student, she obtained an internship her freshman year with the California Faculty Association, where she organized two rallies on campus and served as a key player in the speech and debate team — all the while working 30 hours a week to help pay the bills at home.
Do attributes her success to the individuals who helped her along the way.
“My mother always reminded me that nobody can do it on their own,” Do said. “She told me once you have a lot, it becomes your ultimate duty to help others. I really believed in that. I won’t be where I am today if people didn’t open doors for me.”