In our latest staff Q & A, Project Specialist Barbara Vang discusses her passion for supporting others as they develop skills, abilities, and knowledge. She also shares her thoughts on the way a shared desire to learn can transcend language barriers and lead to magical classroom connections.
What was the career path that led you to your current role at CEED?
I graduated from UMN in 2010 with a bachelor of science degree in sales and marketing as well as human resource development. I had a high interest in training and development. After graduating, I spent five years in Seoul, South Korea, teaching English as a foreign language in suburban public elementary schools.
What I missed while in Korea was my family and community. Looking back, when I left Minnesota, my grandpa said, “Don’t grow flowers outside your home.” My grandparents are Hmong; there’s no country that they can say they come from. So, where do I plant my roots? I knew I wanted to start my own family and what my grandfather said resonated. I realized I wanted to plant my flowers here in Minnesota.
To make my transition back into the American workforce, I discovered Americorps and joined the Community Technology Empowerment Project as a digital literacy advocate through the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network. I taught 20 classes a week in computer literacy and English as a second language (ESL) to adult refugee participants through the Hmong-American Partnership, which is centrally located for the Somali, Karen, and Hmong communities. The oldest people I worked with were in their 70s or 80s, and the youngest were probably 18. My grandparents don’t speak English or use computers, so it was easy to relate to the people in my classes. I was also reminded of teaching Korean students, because everyone was learning English. The Karen and Hmong had a shared understanding of Thai because of time spent in refugee camps, but even with language barriers, students connected because they were all seeking the same skills in English and computer literacy.
I noticed that once a light bulb turns on for one student, it’s a ripple effect: everyone else’s light bulbs go on. Those were my favorite moments of teaching. That’s why I have a passion for sharing knowledge.
After my time with Americorps, to maintain my service to the community and Minnesota, I worked in the training spaces of a couple of agencies within the State of Minnesota. In my last position, I was responsible for coordinating the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s leadership development program. I also facilitated and consulted for their workforce development units.
What does your role at CEED entail?
I provide technical and other project support in all aspects of the department’s work. I’m on the path to becoming a learning management system (LMS) administrator. Canvas is the LMS that we use, so my job will include building out Canvas sites for our online courses, self-study modules, and other training we create and offer. My job supports almost every project we have at CEED, so I am able to use different skills and abilities for each of the different projects.
What is new for you in your work at CEED?
Not being an instructor is new for me. This is another pivot moment in my career. Right now, I’m saving my teaching for my kids. Teaching definitely prepared me for motherhood; it gave me patience. Like being a parent, being a facilitator is exhausting. You hear stories, go home with them, and say to yourself, “How can I help my student find a path through this transition in their life?” My kindergarten-age daughter is constantly asking questions and learning every day. So is our little puppy! And a few months ago, our son joined our family too. So all my teacher energy is going into my family.
Additionally, this role offers me the opportunity to work on online courses at a higher tier than what I’ve done previously. I’ve used various learning management programs at different agencies and I’ve played with Google classrooms on my own as a volunteer ESL teacher, but my background is more in uploading materials and managing registration and tuition. I’m excited to get involved in designing e-learning.
What are you most looking forward to in your role?
One thing that I’m looking forward to is working with new software. Another is managing the student experience. During the pandemic, I did Zoom producing for online instruction. I enjoyed being on the sidelines and watching how classrooms operated and interactions flowed. I also enjoyed being able to step in and offer technical help. So I’m looking forward to being an advocate for students when they need help to answer questions from “How do I reset my password?” to “Do I need this course?”
I love being online. That’s where I’ve always wanted to be—it’s where my brain is. I’m always trying to push for efficiency and convenience and whatever will make life easier. When the pandemic hit, it was simple to match all my interests up together—putting together my passion for human development with that interest in ease of access.
What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of work?
I enjoy cross stitching Hmong tapestry (paj ntaub) and building Lego sets. I started with the intention of building Legos together with my daughter, but it ended up being “mommy time”—and when I’m done building, she can take my sets apart and play with them! I also love traveling with my husband and our family. Our favorite family destination is Walt Disney World. We hope to visit the world’s six Disneyland parks in the future.