Two factors have contributed to 19-year-old Yuepheng Vang’s accelerated track to professionalism and adulthood. One of these is Vang’s experience in the US Army Reserve, and the other, his experience in the University of Minnesota’s Construction Management (CMgt) program.
Vang is a recipient of the APi Group Inc. Scholarship, an award reserved for CMgt program undergraduates, with preference given to US Army veterans. As a first-generation college student, with an excellent GPA and the ambition to one day have a career in residential construction management, Vang sets a high bar for himself. That’s certainly true for his experiences as a soldier and as a student. Read on to learn both sides of Vang’s story.
Life of a Soldier
Both of Vang’s parents immigrated to Minnesota during the Secret War in Laos in the 1970s. For Vang’s mother, the trauma of war in her homeland has never quite dissipated. So, when her son announced at the age of 16 that he wanted to join the US Army Reserve, she was reluctant to consent.
“I had to convince my mom that joining the Army was the right decision for me,” Vang says. “She eventually came around.”
Vang explains that he had originally started thinking about the Army after hearing about it from his brother-in-law, a staff sergeant in the Army.
“He’s been deployed as part of the Infantry and has remained on active duty,” Vang says of his brother-in-law. “Listening to his stories and understanding the benefits and training you get as a soldier, I was really inspired.”
So in the summer of 2015, before his freshman year at the University of Minnesota, Vang shipped off to basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, MO. For ten weeks he went through the challenging transition from civilian to soldier.
“You get trained physically and mentally. Over the course of those ten weeks, I learned the rank structure and the spirit of the Army. You learn that when things go wrong, you can always get back on your feet. You become a soldier.”
With just 24 hours dividing his final day of Basic Training and his first day of college, Vang experienced the surreal juxtaposition of two very different worlds: his life as a soldier and his life as a student.
“It was awkward coming out of basic training,” Vang says. “No one’s in uniform and you see how uncontrolled things are in the civilian world.”
But without missing a beat, Vang began courses at the U of M, focusing his attention on the CMgt program.
Life of a Student
At first, Vang thought he would major in Architecture and minor in Construction Management. But after a semester’s worth of courses, he decided to flip the concentration.
“I realized I preferred Construction Management because of the technical skills that I would gain,” Vang says. “The theoretical, artistic side of architecture wasn’t for me, although I’m still minoring in Architecture.”
“My concentration is in residential construction. I’d like to build homes for families—to connect with the people who will be living in the space and to build a house they’ll love.”
Because many of students in the CMgt program are professionals who are already working full-time in the industry, Vang is one of the youngest students in his classes. But that fact doesn’t bother him. The Army had prepared him for anything—even stretching himself to learn about construction management with more experienced peers.
“I’m definitely the youngest in my classes, and sometimes I need to play catch-up. But just by getting to know everyone, I’m learning from them. They share their experiences in real-world construction scenarios, and it’s really nice.”
That real-world experience is something that Vang values about the instructors of the CMgt program, too. Taught by adjunct faculty who work in the construction field themselves, the instructors bring a lot of expertise to the classroom. The knowledge they pass along to Vang translates into a confidence that he’ll be able to do the job.
“My concentration is in residential construction,” Vang says. “I’d like to build homes for families—to connect with the people who will be living in the space and to build a house they’ll love.”
Last summer, Vang completed his Advanced Individual Training at Fort Eustus, VA. There, he mastered his Military Occupational Specialty, which for him was being a cargo specialist.
“I learned how to operate giant cranes and winches that are on ships,” Vang says. “I operated forklifts and learned how to maneuver 50-ton cranes.”
His expertise in operating this equipment dovetails nicely with his CMgt studies.
Vang knows that he could get deployed at any time and be forced to put his studies on hold, but that thought doesn’t stress him out. He’s looking forward to his chance to use the skills he’s worked so hard to gain. And he’s also looking forward to completing his degree in Construction Management so he can charge ahead into the career he’s always wanted—ready for anything.