By Brooks Dareff
“Way typical” is how Min Dong humbly describes her family’s experiences as Chinese immigrants and now naturalized U.S. citizens. But there is nothing typical about the May 2012 UNC graduate and Covenant Scholar’s achievements at Carolina, where she is now continuing her studies at the School of Dentistry.
Min was born in a rural Fujian province village, where she lived until she was 6, when with her mother and older sister, she followed her father to New York’s Chinatown. Min’s father emigrated when Min was born, leaving China to address, it’s Min’s rough understanding, the local accommodation of the country’s one-child policy. But, as much as anything, Min’s birth seems to have triggered the inevitable.
“My dad wanted a better life for his family,” she says, adding that emigration to the U.S. from Fujian is commonplace. “The American education system is the best in the world. Everyone knows that.”
And Min and her sister capitalized on that opportunity, becoming the first people in their family to attend college, both as Covenant Scholars. The road to Carolina led, when Min was 11, through Yanceyville, N.C., where her father had bought a restaurant. Min would attend Bartlett Yancey High School for two years – where her sister graduated as valedictorian – before recruitment of the school’s top 10 percent students by the N.C. School of Science & Mathematics brought her to Durham for her junior and senior years. At NSS&M, where students’ expenses are covered, Min reveled in the advanced academics, taking on the school’s motto that she says still inspires her: “Accept a greater challenge.”
Carolina was Min’s top choice among UNC System schools – and earning a Johnston Scholarship, which provides a full ride for select high-achieving, low-income students, and acceptance as a Covenant Scholar, which filled in the gaps and provided a host of programs, workshops and other services, made the decision to attend Carolina an easy one. “It was such a privilege,” she says.
The Covenant would provide a gateway to her future. Through the program’s pre-health seminar, which she attended as a junior, Min met a former Covenant Scholar already in dental school who mentored and inspired her to do the same. Having started in environmental science, she was by then in the School of Public Health, and would graduate with honors as an environmental health science major with a minor in chemistry.
With dentistry in her future – the opportunity to address preventable health issues in children among its appeals, Min emailed Fred Clark, Covenant’s academic coordinator. “He connected me to people I could talk to at the dental school,” she says. “He really encouraged you to take advantage of all the Covenant has to offer.”
And take advantage Min did, through the Covenant – free tickets for performances at Memorial Hall was “the main thing … a really great cultural opportunity” – and at Carolina in general. Among her many undergraduate achievements and activities:
- Along with seven other honors students, Min’s senior outreach/service Capstone project with the Institute for the Environment planned and implemented energy efficiency and recycling programs in public housing apartments for the Town of Chapel Hill. Min ran the project’s CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) section, which worked with the town to distribute 3,800 CFLs to 336 public housing units.
- She served as a mentor to Covenant freshmen, having benefitted herself from the mentoring program: “I was a Covenant mentor and I had a Covenant mentor. It’s a great way to give back.”
- She served on the Environmental Affairs Committee of Student Government in the 2008-2009 school year, when she was also a hall head for Olde Campus Lower Quad Community Government.
- Min worked for four months in 2010 as a lab assistant in a synthetic medicinal chemistry lab.
- A four-year and current member of Agape Campus Ministry, she was president of the ministry during her senior year.
- She volunteered for the School of Dentistry’s Mission of Mercy Clinic, which provides free dental treatment and “really helps you see the need for dental care in North Carolina”; UNC Hospitals’ Newborn Critical Care Center ; Habitat For Humanity, through Covenant Gives Back, the public service program started and run by Covenant Scholars; Stop Hunger Now’s A Million Meals events; Tar Heel Treasure, the annual charity benefit sale of items left on campus by students at the end of the school year; TABLE, a Carrboro-based hunger relief organization for children within the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district; and Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization, for whom and with fellow Agape members, she helped for three summers with its global native crops and seed bank efforts in Fort Myers, Fla.
With so many mentors at Carolina, many through the Covenant, Min’s most influential has been Anne Kim, who is married to Agape’s pastor. Min credits much of her social consciousness, so evident in her activities and career ambitions, to her involvement with Agape, which “gave me a different perspective in how I see things, to be more selfless and more giving to others, to see how I’ve been blessed and how I’ve been given so much. It also played a part in my decision to go into health care, a profession where you address people’s pain and help others.”
Among those blessings, she says, is the Covenant, itself a manifestation of her ethos. Meeting so many other Covenant Scholars during her undergraduate years brought that home: “It reminded me of how blessed I am to be a Covenant Scholar, that that kind of support doesn’t come that easily. It’s very encouraging that this university would care that much to make sure that disadvantaged students from low-income families would be taken care of,” Min says, reappraising her categorization and recasting it as something closer to inspiration. “But I didn’t feel disadvantaged at all, because I had all these opportunities as a Covenant Scholar. It just makes me want to do well. There are all these people sponsoring you, behind you. And it makes you want to give back.”