Kia Vang

Kia VangAs the fifth-oldest child in a family of 15 siblings—ages 4 to 34—Kia Vang knows finding a way to stand out in a crowd can be a challenge.

However, as a past beneficiary of a number of Junior Achievement programs during her childhood that she says helped her do just that, she’s now serving as a volunteer to a new generation of JA students to help pass on what she learned.

Vang, 25, the daughter of Hmong refugees who immigrated to Minnesota in 1994, is a Certified Retirement Service Professional at Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust in Minneapolis. She says that as far back as elementary school, JA taught her lessons that still help her today.

“When I was in sixth grade, I had my first JA class at Cherokee High Elementary,” Vang says. “I remember taking courses that taught us about making our own brand and learning about career paths. One of the big lessons was that how we see ourselves is how the workforce is going to see us. As a sixth-grader, I was really attracted to that because I was attracted to being successful.”

In addition to the financial literacy and career preparation skills Vang learned from JA, she also had the opportunity to attend JA BizTown, an experience that left a dramatic mark.

“In JA BizTown, you get to take on the role of any number of jobs, like a banker or a construction worker,” she explains. “I was the mayor, so I got to run the town! You had to campaign, you had to give speeches and you had to win the election. It was so much fun, but it was also really great because it helped teach me to be an effective communicator at a young age. I really appreciate JA for that. It helped me step out of my comfort zone, and you really never know that you’re capable of so much more until you take on that role. As a sixth-grader, I thought, ‘I’m the mayor, and I did it!’”

As a result, today Vang is giving back to JA. She volunteers at JA BizTown and she also has taught seventh graders the same JA class she took as a child about career paths and personal brands. “That’s something I think that can only be taught from personal experience,” Vang says about volunteering. I told the kids I’d been in JA, and they were really excited about that. A lot of the students asked me why it was important for them to learn these things, and I told them that if they learn these lessons, they’ll be able to apply them to every area of their life. Success principles are universals; whatever you can believe, you can achieve.”