A Light on the Path

For Melissa Chung — a first-generation student — earning a degree meant figuring things out on her own. Growing up during the communist revolution in China, neither of Melissa’s parents had any higher education experience. At a young age, they were both forced to quit school and work on farms. “My dad finished high school, but my mom only got through junior high,” she explains. “Their lack of education had a huge impact on their lives. It was one of the main reasons they decided to move to the United States — to look for better opportunities for their children.”

Because she loved the arts and humanities, Melissa originally enrolled at Utah Valley University to study theater. But as her interests changed and financial stresses grew, she decided to take a short break from school. Her short break eventually turned into years, with Melissa working full time in the technical support department of an online paper invoicing company.

After four years of working for this company, Melissa got the news she was being laid off. It was a difficult situation, but the experience gave her the opportunity to reflect and make important life decisions. “I had always hesitated to return to school. I couldn’t figure out how to pay for it. But after being laid off, I decided to return to school — even though I didn’t know exactly how to make it work.”

Melissa now views being laid off as a blessing in disguise. “It gave me the opportunity and the motivation to sit down, apply for grants, and find different options to pay for school,” she says. Melissa received UVU’s Returning Wolverine Grant, a fund specifically designed to assist former students who have taken an extended break from their education. “This grant has lit my path,” she says. “It allows me to focus on my education and is preparing me for a career where I can give back to my community.”

Melissa is pursuing a career as a therapist. She credits an experience in UVU’s theater program with inspiring that decision. While working as a backup house manager, she saw one of her fellow classmates blow up. “She was the type of person who put up huge walls. Most people avoided her,” Melissa explains. “At that moment, I sat down to talk with her and let her share her story. That experience really sparked my desire to want to go into psychology,” she says. “I want to help people to see who they really are, who they can be, and enable them to leave their past behind so they can achieve what they’re meant to achieve.”