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“I’m here, you can keep me!” Following up with Mimi Duong, one of Vermont’s most enthusiastic new employees
When Mimi Duong was applying to college during her senior year at St. Johnsbury Academy, she found herself at a bit of a disadvantage, since her parents, who had emigrated to Vermont from Vietnam, weren’t totally familiar with the American college admissions system. When we last spoke with her in the winter of 2020, she was halfway through her freshman year at UVM, grateful for the support she had received from VSAC during her college search and application process.
Now, as a recent (and award-winning) UVM graduate, Mimi has once again found opportunity in a VSAC-affiliated program – the Green Mountain Job & Retention Program – which supported her desire to start her career in-state, doing meaningful work in her area of interest with a Vermont employer.
Under the Green Mountain Job & Retention Program, the State of Vermont, in collaboration with the University of Vermont and VSAC, will repay up to $5,000 of a student’s outstanding college debt if they graduated with a bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2023 and agree to work in Vermont for at least two years.
For Mimi, who is the newly appointed Outreach and Membership Coordinator for the Vermont Professionals of Color Network, this means she’ll be able to work in her area of passion: strengthening opportunities for cultural minorities in her home state.
“As an Asian student growing up in predominantly Caucasian rural Vermont, I definitely have a different perspective about the world around me,” she said in 2020. Reflecting on her college experience, she now says her involvement with cultural affinity groups at UVM deepened her interest in supporting those different perspectives and transforming them into opportunities.
At UVM, she says, “I was really involved with student life, way more than I thought I would be. Working with those affinity groups really formed my interests. The stars aligned,” she laughs.
Mimi majored in public communications, and learned a lot of hands-on skills that continue to serve her well in the professional world. In one of her most memorable classes, students planned and executed a social media campaign about improving one’s mental health by connecting with nature. “We created Instagram content, produced a podcast and wrote blog posts. Even though it was relatively low-stakes because it was just a class, it was a really fulfilling experience, and I’m still using the content calendar I worked with at that time,” she says.
Mimi received three awards at graduation: a leadership award from the Women and Gender Wage Equity Center, a leadership award from the Mosaic Center, and the university-wide Elmer Nicholson Achievement Prize, which recognizes “the student who has emerged from their total UVM experience with the promise of great expectations in their field of interest,” according to the commencement program.
However, Mimi has to think hard to recall those awards. “I know it’s only been a few months since I graduated, but I almost don’t even remember being at college!” she laughs. Having started her job right after graduation, Mimi is now fully immersed in planning events, coordinating with partner organizations, staying in touch with members – and responding to an urgent need to help businesses affected by this summer’s devastating floods.
“Nobody tells you you’ll have to handle a statewide emergency after just one month on the job,” she laughs.
But when her organization went into emergency-response mode, Mimi was up to the task. She has continually updated the organization’s website with flood relief information, and she completely revised the agenda for an event they had planned for August. It was supposed to be a casual summer event, Mimi recalls, but she and her team changed all of the content to make it more specifically directed at flood relief and response. They also moved the location, at the last minute, from Burlington to Stowe.
“It was a lot,” she admits. But thinking about the magnitude of what business owners have gone through – and, for many, with the added challenge of a language barrier – keeps her focused.
“A lot of our members who are business owners are also New Americans, just like my own parents were when they opened their business in St. Johnsbury 30 years ago,” Mimi notes. “I make that connection a lot.”
While Mimi applied to a few opportunities outside Vermont early on in her job search, she says the VTPOC Network “landed in my lap at just the right time,” adding that the organization is a great match in terms of mission, culture, and opportunities for professional development.
“Most adults talk about working as the worst thing ever,” she says. “But the nature of my organization, and the rapport among the people I work with, are both so inspiring that it doesn’t feel like work at all. I’m really happy that I work where I do.”
Her long-term goals are to “refine my skills as a professional in the field, and to keep working toward the empowerment of marginalized voices,” she says. And she feels confident that VTPOC, and Vermont in general, both make a great launching pad for her promising career.
“I’m here; you guys can keep me!” she laughs.