From the day of his college visit in 2017, Alex Pang knew he wanted to be a Jayhawk. “I wanted to attend a university that felt like a college campus and that had ties to the community,” he said. KU checked both boxes. After a period of exploration, he eventually found his fit in the College as a sociology major with an environmental studies minor, a combination of studies that allowed him to pursue his passions for serving marginalized identities and the natural world. He also found opportunities to connect with peers, dedicated staff, and expert faculty who supported — and challenged — him.
We caught up with Alex, now a senior, who told us about choosing a major and minor that fit his interests, the KU connections that have impacted his journey, and his plans to make higher education a more diverse, equitable and inclusive space.
Where are you from, and why did you decide to come to KU?
My hometown is Topeka, Kansas. I decided to come to KU after attending my first college visit here, and I fell in love with KU. My mom still teases me about how I cried during the first introduction video during that visit — it was an emotional day, what can I say! I actually remember walking down Jayhawk Boulevard in late January 2017 during my college visit, and KU felt like a place where I wanted to be. I wanted to attend a university that felt like a college campus and that had ties to the community.
Why did you choose your major and minor?
It was a long journey to becoming a Sociology major and Environmental Studies minor. I started my freshman year as a Political Science major on a pre-law track. I knew I wanted to help people, but after my introductory political science classes I realized that a career in law was not quite the fit I was looking for. I didn’t even know what population I wanted to help at the time. It wasn’t until I was on a pre-professional track that I ended up taking another Sociology course, SOC 104. I had taken SOC 110, previously but I was so focused on the pre-law track that I never gave other areas of study a chance. While in SOC 104, everything seemed to click. The course material aligned with a lot of my personal beliefs, the sociological theories we discussed were fascinating, and I had a professor and GTA who were invested in my education.
I added Environmental Studies as a minor, after bouncing around to other areas of study for a while. I took a course titled ‘Environmental Sociology’ (SOC/EVRN 385) during my junior year, and I was actually excited to learn how my major and minor could interconnect. The journey to finding a major was difficult at times because I really wanted to fit in somewhere with an interesting area of study. I didn’t feel invested in my classes until Sociology and Environmental Studies, which have laid a solid foundation for my next steps.
What is the most exciting part of your major and minor?
Sociology and Environmental Studies to me, make sense. As a gay Asian American male, Sociology as a major is the perfect fit because I have the ability to learn more about people with identities similar to mine. I grew up asking questions about the ozone layer to my mother, and I have always been concerned about the environment. My major and minor fit with my interests and what I value. I care about marginalized identities, specifically LGBTQ+ and people of color, and their experiences, along with the environment and the natural world. The opportunity to learn under dedicated and knowledgeable faculty is one like no other. I think what is valuable about my areas of study are that they are interdisciplinary in nature, along with the benefit of being customizable to what I want to study and learn more about.
What has been your favorite class at KU?
This one is tough! It comes down to two classes, ultimately for me. SOC 400: Sociology of Sexuality and WGSS 327: Perspectives in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies. WGSS 327 was largely about the histories of the LGBTQ+ community, and it focused in particular on the different movements for LGBTQ+ acceptance and rights. As a member of that community, a lot of the history was familiar. However, I gained a new lens to look at people’s experiences and identities. Sociology of Sexuality with Dr. Brooker was also a great experience, since it reinforced a lot of the previous material that I learned about in WGSS 327. I would recommend that everyone take at least one course about human sexuality or about minority and marginalized identities in their time as a college student.
What is the benefit of being in the KU College alongside students studying sciences, arts and humanities?
One benefit of being in the College is the experiences with faculty that truly care about their students and their success. Once I committed to my areas of study, I felt like I started connecting with like-minded students and was challenged by my professors to think critically about ideas that I had just accepted in the past. Critical thinking skills are one of the many benefits from learning in the KU College.
Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you!
Tanay Adams from the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Tanay has acted like another stakeholder in my life since she was one of my former supervisors when I was a Social Justice Peer Educator at the OMA. Her knowledge, compassion, and humor make her relatable. I would always come into the office to chat with her before heading home from campus, and I am positive that I was a big distraction from her work at times. Tanay would always make sure we were doing self-care, completing schoolwork, and putting ourselves first ahead of all the busyness that college student life can bring.
Have you done any internships, study abroad programs, or any other learning experiences you’d like to share?
In my time at KU, I have mainly worked in a few student positions that have given me exposure to the work I would like to do in the future. I was an Orientation Assistant after my freshman year, a former Social Justice Peer Educator, and I currently am a Multicultural Scholars Program Student Assistant. Although I am not in the program itself, I am learning valuable skills and gaining experience for a future career. Similar to my previous position at the Office of Multicultural Affairs, my current position has allowed to me to be an advocate for those of marginalized identities. All of that being said, these opportunities have solidified my desire to work in diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education.
What would you tell your freshman self?
Take it easy. Whenever I see my grandfather, he always tells me that, and I never understood why. Well, he’s 93 and I believe one of his secrets to a healthy, long life is taking it easy. To me, that means not stressing over the small stuff. As someone who tends to overthink easily, I am reminded to take it easy and realize that I’m only in control of my actions.
What do you want to do when you graduate?
I am currently in the process of applying to graduate schools for Fall 2021. It is super exciting but can also be very scary! I am hoping to study Higher Education/Student Affairs at an institution in the Midwest. And, yes, KU is of course on my short list! When I was offered the opportunity to be an Orientation Assistant, I had never really considered Higher Education to be a field to go into. Through that position, it awakened my desire and determination to help college students, primarily through diversity, equity, and inclusion which has been a central focus in my later time at KU.
What motivates you?
There are so many people who have influenced me and helped motivate me to get where I am today. Although, I would say one of the biggest cheerleaders in my life is my sister, Abby. I am thankful for our little brother/big sister bond, and as we grow up, it is awesome to see each other thrive and succeed in our respective areas. I can’t forget about my cat, Leo, and how I feel motivated for him. Ultimately, I know that I wouldn’t be anywhere without the support everyone has given me. I am thankful for my friends, family, and faculty and staff who have helped shape me into who I am today.
Meet more of our students. For more information, explore the Department of Sociology and the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Kansas.