Naw Eh Ku ’19, a sociology major with a minor in health studies, is this year’s recipient of the Lonnstrom HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program) Excellence Award.
The annual award was established in 2014 by Douglas Lonnstrom ’66, Ph.D., a Siena College professor of quantitative business analysis, and his wife, Cris, to support HEOP students in pursuing their careers and goals after graduation.
Ku was selected as this year’s recipient based on her passion for academic achievement, community involvement, and most importantly, her commitment to refugee initiatives. Born in a refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Myanmar, Ku is a member of the Karen (pronounced Kah-Ren) ethnic group. At the age of fourteen, she and her family were able to achieve asylum and resettled in Albany through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
During her four years at Siena, Ku has been incredibly involved in on-campus programs and community service. On top of her position as an HEOP peer mentor, she has held the position of President of the San Damiano Refugee Partnership since 2015, served as Treasurer of the Asian Students Association, and also participates in Best Buddies and Be Smart Be Safe Campaign.
“As a peer mentor, I got to impart the importance of education as well as good character, and help new students discover who they are and adjust to their new school environment. My goal all along was focused on the student’s success academically, socially, emotionally, and even spiritually if they wanted,” said Ku.
During her time at Siena, she also had the opportunity to attend King’s College in London, England, where she participated in an internship at Age International. During her time as a Policy and Influencing Intern, she conducted research for the Disability Summit, the Commonwealth Summit, and even attended meetings in the House of Parliament.
After graduation, Ku will pursue a Master’s of Public Health and follow her passion to better society by improving health policies. She hopes to use her education to give back to New York State and contribute to refugee health internationally.
“As a college graduate, I will continue my volunteer work in the Capital District by offering my services. I will continue to be a volunteer-translator and do informal social-work related activities to uplift and support [the] refugee community.”
With the assistance of this grant, Ku will be able to afford the basic starting fees of graduate school, such as textbooks and living expenses.
Ku admits, “To be perfectly honest, without HEOP’s help, I would not be able to continue my education. HEOP has been the wind beneath my feet ever since I graduated from high school.”