College Nine '14
Yeram Cheong noticed something about the young autistic girl sitting at the edge of the playground. Although she was thought to be uncommunicative, the girl was making gestures that reminded Cheong of the American Sign Language she was studying in junior college.
Cheong, a volunteer at the school, approached and made a few rudimentary signs. It didn't take the girl long to respond. Soon, the youngster was drawing and playing ball with Cheong by her side.
That interaction, said Cheong, gave her insight into being open-minded about approaching children with disabilities. Coupled with her volunteer work with migrant farmworkers and their children, Cheong (College Nine '14, intensive psychology and education) began to think she wanted to work with underrepresented populations, adding research to her goal of becoming a counselor and teacher some day.
"A graduate student said research can be a form of activism," Cheong said. "That shifted how I wanted to help."
Born in South Korea, Cheong immigrated to the U.S. in 2008 after spending two years studying in the Philippines to learn English. She and her family settled in San Jose. The first years were tough as she struggled with language and culture, but she managed to graduate with a 3.7 GPA, attend De Anza College and be accepted at UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSC.
The opportunities provided for undergraduates along with the beauty of the campus led Cheong to choose UCSC, although she still worried about how she would afford college. Thanks to the prestigious $10,000-a-year Karl S. Pister Leadership Opportunity Award however, Cheong was able to attend UCSC and devote full attention to her studies instead of having to find a job.
She is now helping with face perception research in Assistant Professor of Psychology Nicolas Davidenko's lab and hoping to go to graduate school.
"I am really going to use this time to get the most out of my education," Cheong said.