March 14, 2024

‘Everything is possible’

A degree from NDSU is significant to Yiqi Yuan and her parents. As a first-generation college student, Yuan is making her parents proud as she works toward her future career

“My parents’ education level is below high school, so they wanted me to be in college and pursue a better career,” said the senior apparel, retail merchandising and design major. “It’s very significant to them because going to college and getting the education, getting the degree, I think they really want me to have a good career and a good life.”

Yuan, who was born in China, moved to Fargo with her family about a decade ago. Choosing NDSU means she is able to stay close to her family. Specific resources also made NDSU stand out as the best choice for her higher education.

Being a recipient of the cultural diversity tuition waiver means Yuan’s tuition is fully covered. Additionally, Yuan was able to get a head start in preparing for college through TRIO Upward Bound in high school. A federally funded program hosted by NDSU, Upward Bound prepares income eligible and/or first-generation students with the resources they need to be successful in high school and post-secondary education. 

The program provides students with mentors, tutoring, college advising, career and college visits and assistance with applications. 

Starting at NDSU in the midst of the global pandemic in 2020 brought challenges for Yuan, such as navigating online learning and building connections with others during remote learning. Though through that time, Yuan said she was able to find support from her NDSU academic adviser, who made sure she stayed on track, as well as from TRIO Student Support Services, which has provided Yuan the resources she needs to be successful. 

Student Support Services helps students academically, financially and personally through a variety of free services, including peer mentoring, tutoring, grant aid, enhanced advising and career/graduate school preparation. Interested students can apply on the TRIO website.

“I think it’s very helpful,” Yuan said. “They also offer an English one-credit course that helped my English writing a little bit. Since I am a second-language speaker, it’s a little challenging writing papers and getting the perfect grammar.”

Yuan decided to become a peer mentor with TRIO so she could pass on the advice she received to others. 

“Now as a senior, I wanted to give out advice since I have experience over the pandemic and the online transition,” she said. “I think it’s very helpful for students when they come to me to ask for help.”

Levi Tronnes, an education specialist-programming with TRIO who serves as Yuan’s peer mentor supervisor, said she has become an invaluable member of the team.  

“Her ability to utilize her own experiences as a first-generation student at NDSU helps many students relate and connect with her. This helps her to be a great peer mentor, which allows her to help many of the first-year and new students that come to her for advice and help as she herself has been in those very same shoes,” Tronnes said. “I think her passion for helping others is another key element to her success as a peer mentor, as it is work that requires one to give back to the greater community. To that end, she is selfless and wanting to make a greater impact on the world around her and give back in a way that so many did for her once in her time of need.”

In addition to the resources provided on campus, Yuan said the NDSU community has been very welcoming. 

“NDSU offers not only a variety of programs, but we really have a strong community bonding together. We have the Bison spirit with football and tailgating. People are just very nice and supportive to each other,” she said.  

Part of what makes campus welcoming is the student organizations. Yuan has been involved in the Asian Student Organization and the NDSU Chinese Students and Scholars Association. Both organizations host various events throughout the year.

Yuan is currently the president of the CSSA. While the club wasn’t active when she took on the president role, Yuan has made it her priority to ensure students feel like they belong on campus. 

“When I first got the role it was during my sophomore year. It was after COVID, so the club was not active. I wanted to take up the role and become active again so the students from cultural backgrounds and the same background would have a home, and to provide safe events for them to participate,” she said. “I also wanted them to embrace the culture since we are a diverse school. I think that’s very important.”

Some of the events the CSSA helps host include Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival. Yuan said she has seen an interest among students wanting to attend the events. Yuan said her involvement with both organizations and her leadership position in the CSSA also has enhanced skills she will be able to use in the future.  

“I think they really pushed me out of my comfort zone to take up the lead by leading the different events and practicing my public speaking skills because I was still nervous on giving presentations and that really helps me speaking out,” she said. “It also enhanced my teamwork where we plan different events, festivals and cultural events.”

Along with the welcoming environment in NDSU student organizations, Yuan said she has found a sense of comradery within her academic program. One of Yuan’s professors who has provided her advice is Ann Braaten, NDSU associate professor and curator of the Emily P. Reynolds Costume Collection at NDSU.  

“She’s helped me in my college journey,” Yuan said. “During my sophomore year, I wasn’t sure if I should continue my major. I started off as interior design and I changed my major to apparel. So, she just kind of helped me and advised me in my classes in general.”

Yuan’s passion has been noticeable to Braaten, who said Yuan is a hardworking student in class.

“I have found Yiqi to be a disciplined individual with a wonderful sense of design,” Braaten said. “In the apparel product design class last fall, she repeatedly demonstrated her problem-solving ability by coming up with a diverse array of design solutions for the projects in class. With her beautiful illustrations and descriptions, she brings the listener through her process to get them on board with her design solutions.  It is a pleasure to work Yiqi because she is such a dedicated and talented student.”

Even though Yuan switched majors, she said she still has support from peers in both programs. 

“At this point I still have friends in the interior design program even though I’m not in the major. I really think with that relationship, it really helps in the future, too, because I kind of want to try different things with interior design and then apparel design. So, being able to have that connection can help me maybe in my future career too,” she said. 

Some of Yuan’s favorite things about her program include classes in fashion trend forecasting and hands-on projects in her sewing class.

Yuan, who wants to pursue a career as a buyer, said she’s been able to gain a lot of experience in the field so far. A highlight was participating as a student designer at the Fashion, Apparel and Business Organization's annual fashion show during sophomore year. The on-campus event is run and developed by students involved in FABO. Yuan plans to participate in the fashion show again this year, which will take place on April 24 in the Memorial Union.  

Yuan wants prospective first-generation students to know that anything is possible.   

“My advice is if you have a willing heart, everything is possible,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and ask for help if you need it. I think you will be very successful. Just take a step further.”

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