Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Employee Spotlight

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Employee Spotlight

May is designated Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, celebrating the significant contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the history, culture, and diversity of America.

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, we spotlighted Pheng Yang, M.A.F.M., Executive Director of Enrollment Services. Pheng’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Laos, making him a first-generation American of HMong ancestry.

What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a space for many things to me. It is a space for honoring and remembering the past and history. A space recognizing all that the AAPI community has contributed to this great nation of ours. AAPI’s contribution is one thread among many great others that make up this wonderful, like no other, tapestry of America.

How has your heritage influenced you?

Considering that heritage is the inherited values, beliefs, traditions, and culture it has greatly influenced and shaped who I am. My heritage is one of the films mixed in with many others that sits on the lens I look out of.

Does your family have any traditions that are especially important to you?

Yes! So many traditions and so many are important. From births to weddings to funerals – are all important. One that I hold near and dear to me is the respect and honor paid to my ancestors.

Is there a role model or mentor who has influenced you?

Yes. Too many! So many have lent an uplifting hand. I love and am grateful for them all. To this day, many are still mentors. If I had to pick one…Rich Fonzeno, my grade school basketball coach. As a first generation born and as the eldest, to have someone who understood the customs and path ahead of me, which were foreign to my parents, Mr. Fonzeno’s encouragement and words of advice greatly impacted not only my thought process at a young age but opened up pathways that were not within my vision and only came into focus because of him.

Do you have a recipe for your favorite cultural food you would like to share?

HMong food is simple but feeds the soul. Grilled chicken seasoned with salt, black pepper, and garlic, served with sticky or sweet rice. The dish is accompanied by a Thai chili pepper sauce, prepared by using a mortar and pestle to combine crushed Thai chili peppers, cilantro, and green onions. Simple! But hits the spot.

What do you like best about working at UIU?

The privilege and opportunity to work alongside those committed to serving one another and providing an excellent experience to our students by upholding our wonderful mission and values.

Do you have a favorite quote you would like to share?

“Other teams may be better. Bigger. Faster. But no one should play harder.” – Coach/Mr. Rich Fonzeno