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Regalia of Resilience: PBA Grad Reflects on the Power of Education

Palm Beach Atlantic grad Niang Thang smiles for the camera. She has dark long hair and is wearing an ivory blouse.This article was originally published by our grantee partner, Palm Beach Atlantic University. It is shared here with permission.

Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) graduate and Fulbright recipient Niang Thang 24 knows a thing or two about the importance of education—though she didnt always believe in it. Over the past seven years, shes seen how higher education, mentorship, and the transformative power of belief can help someone move from feeling stuck to living out their dreams.

Niang Thang lives with her parents, who are immigrants from Myanmar, in West Palm Beach. During her early high school years, Thang struggled with her mental health and some academic challenges.

Thangs parents went into panic mode, unsure of how to respond to their only childs struggles. Their solution? Pray.

They loved and cared for me; they wanted to do what was best,” she shared. They turned to God—they said, We dont know what to do, so the only thing we can do is trust [Him] and His will.’”

Finding Academic Renewal at PBA

A couple of years later, Niang Thang was ready for something more.

Something sparked in me,” she reflected. I wanted to build a future for myself.”

She heard about PBA from her friends sister, who attended the university. Though Niang Thang was reluctant to apply, her friend encouraged her.

A month later, Thang received her acceptance letter.

Thang entered PBA as a freshman in fall 2020, while navigating college life during the COVID-19 pandemic. The second-generation college student says her past experiences of learning how to manage her mental health helped her thrive during the pandemic.

Thang also credits her success to PBAs supportive community. She was particularly moved by the genuine care that faculty and staff demonstrated—especially as she entered PBA with an undeclared major.

When I was trying to choose, I met with my career mentor, Jennifer Fonseca,” she said. She guided me and helped me figure out my major. She had a willingness to help me.”

After diligently researching and identifying programs that best mirrored her passions and goals, Thang chose to study psychology and pursue a chemistry minor. She was also accepted into the Frederick M. Supper Honors Program.

Now, shes the Class of 2024 Outstanding Graduate of the psychology department.

I came into PBA as one person, now Im graduating as another,” Thang said. PBA had a big role in transforming me. I started with nothing—but I felt like I had such potential and big dreams.”

Thang added that she could focus on her academic and career goals thanks to the scholarships she received, including the 2024 Women of Distinction Scholarship, which gives funds to female students who excel in academics, service, and leadership, and the Johnson Scholarshipwhich is distributed to PBA students with demonstrated financial need.

They made it easier [for me] to go to school,” she said. My peers are worried about how to pay for school, or theyre in debt. I dont have to feel burdened because I dont have to work and sacrifice my grades. The scholarships saved me and my parents from that financial burden. I am honored to have been chosen.”

In addition to easing the financial pressures, the scholarships enabled Thang to thrive in a full-time academic routine—which, in turn, helped spark conversations with her parents about her hopes and dreams.

We started talking about my future and my passions,” she shared. They were very open-minded. I would have thought that they wanted me to go into pre-med! But I was comfortable talking with them.”

Looking Ahead: Fulbright and Future Goal

This summer, Thang will embark on a year-long English teaching assistantship to Taiwan under the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Though she wasnt initially planning to apply, a professor urged her to consider it, and she took a leap of faith. Guided by Dr. Carl Miller, associate professor of English and PBA faculty coordinator for the Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships, Thang prepared her application last semester while also applying to graduate programs.

Last month, she learned that she received the Fulbright.

Tears started flowing; I was in utter shock. I couldnt believe it,” Thang said, adding that these moments remind her to believe in herself. People would think I was a failure with no future—but there was something in me that said I knew better.”

After her teaching assistantship, Thang wants to continue her education and become a clinical psychologist.

No matter what, I can do and achieve much more,” she reflected. PBA is something special—Ive never encountered people like this. These professors are investing in our lives, and their belief in me [reminded me] that I can thrive. I dont think I would have done as well as I did if I attended another school.”

To learn more about PBA’s psychology and counseling programs, click here.

To watch PBA’s 2024 Commencement recap video, click here

 

Palm Beach Atlantic University is a core grantee partner of JSF. At the bequest of its founders, the Foundation distributes $1.2 million to PBA each year. The funds provide scholarships to qualified students who wish to pursue higher education but cannot otherwise afford to do so.