Every month, the Khmer Alumni Associate recognizes one successful and outstanding Cambodian-American alumnus who has made an impact in their community. This individual is featured on our Instagram account, @KhmerAlumni, and on our Facebook fan page, Khmer Alumni Association.
Scholar, professional, advocate, leader, part-time model and soon-to-be occupational therapist, Johnny Sok is this month’s KAA Alumni Spotlight!
Johnny attended LBCC and transferred to UCLA where he studied Biology. During his two years at UCLA, he was heavily involved with the United Khmer Students (UKS). He started off as a general member and Khmer Outreach Retention and Education (KORE) mentor his first year, then became external vice president and lead actor for UKS’s 17thAnnual Culture Night his senior year. Throughout his senior year at UCLA, he also advocated for other issues in the Asian-American community by representing UKS on the Asian Pacific Coalition.
As part of a newer generation of Cambodian Americans, he believes in giving back to his community where many students still do not have the exposure or guidance that students in more affluent communities have. Therefore, Johnny immediately joined KAA after college where he eventually became the Director of Student Development. He helped launch the Khmer Alumni Mentorship Program (KAAMP) and student scholarships and fostered many working relationships with the Khmer Student Organizations (KSO) and the greater community.
We would like to congratulate Johnny as he will begin graduate school in Chicago for his master’s in occupational therapy! We wish you all the best and thank you for all your impactful service to KAA.
Sovanchan Sorn was born in Des Moines, Iowa where her family was sponsored in the early 80s after the Cambodian Genocide. A year after she was born, her family made the decision to move to Long Beach, California. She studied Applied Arts and Design at Long Beach City College and continued her education at Cal State University, Long Beach where she received a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree in Fiber.
While working and attending school full time, Sovanchan served on the Board of Directors at the ArtExchange in Long Beach. The ArtExchange is non-profit organization that supports working artists, provides art education, and develops community art programs. Sovanchan helped create and fund outreach programs and worked with community leaders to build a fine arts center. She also served as the Program Director where she was in charge of budgeting, scholarships, and curriculum planning for yearly intensive fine art programs.
Currently, Sovanchan works as the Production Manager at Tanya Aguiñiga Studio in Los Angeles, California. Tanya Aguiñiga is a Mexican-American designer, artist, and activist. Her work takes on many forms ranging from installations, furniture, accessories, social practices and performance. Her most recent project, AMBOS (Art Made Between Opposite Sides) is a border activation with the purpose to unite communities of people who cross the US/Mexico border everyday though art.
In addition to her work with Tanya Aguiñiga, Sovanchan has her own fine art practice. She uses a floor loom to weave delicate sculptures with materials ranging from cotton and silk to monofilament and copper.
Sovanchan’s latest work, This is All I Remember, is a series of audio interviews with members of her family, woven structures, and video projections. She seeks to uncover the unspoken hardships of her family’s escape from genocide to their life in refugee camps and their struggle to find a new existence in the United States. With the exploration of her family’s past, she attempts to find meaning and connection by shining light on their tragedy, struggle, strength, and weakness.
Sovanchan hopes to continue to use art as a platform to create healing in the Khmer community and help create dialogue between genocide survivors and their children who are often sheltered from their family’s past trauma.
She is currently the Artist in Residence at the Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA) until May 2018.
Allen Prom is the co-founder of Yeak Inc., producing Cambodian-American Hot Sauces. Born in Denver, Colorado, and raised in a Mitchell, South Dakota, he grew up in the kitchen of his family restaurant where he fell in love with food. His love for food, and wanting to own his own business one day, pushed him to attend Culinary Arts and business school. He earned his Culinary Arts degree at the International Art Institute of Colorado and continued on to get his Bachelor’s in Business Management at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.
After college, he spent 5 years working at different restaurants in Denver and Los Angeles. Everything from small scale kitchens to large volume operations. Learning something new at every establishment. It was while working at USC, he founded Yeak Inc. with his wife. They wanted to create a line of products that focused on fresh, high-quality ingredients, and flavors that would mesh well with all types of foods.
He strongly encourages young Cambodian-Americans to be entrepreneurs and own your own business. “We need more Cambodian-American owned businesses to help shape and grow the community. A community that builds together and grows together, will forever stay together, and be strong.”
Darlene Ly is a passionate school counselor, community member and volunteer. She grew up in Long Beach, California where the largest population of Cambodians in the U.S. resides. Her upbringing was rooted with both Cambodian and American cultures, languages, traditions and values. She proudly earned her B.A. degree in Human Development at UC San Diego (UCSD) and M.S. degree in K-12 Educational Counseling at CSU Long Beach.
Her desire to pursue a counseling career was inspired by her former high school counselor and many volunteer leadership experiences including: South East Asian (SEA) Summer Institute (SI), SEA Intercollegiate Summit, National Association for Education and Advancement (NAFEA) and the UCSD Cambodian Student Association. Above all, Darlene has been involved in the Khmer Alumni Association (KAA) for 5 years. Her counseling and leadership experience led to the development of KAA Mentorship Program (KAAMP), which have helped students to find positive connections with professionals in the working field.
Currently, Darlene is serving her third year as an elementary school counselor in Long Beach, where she models and inspires others everyday to believe in oneself and think anything is possible through hard work, perseverance, and compassion.
Belinda Khou is a Ventura County native and graduated from UC Irvine in 2015 with a degree in Biological Sciences. Having grown up away from other Khmer youth in Simi Valley, she credits re-connecting with her culture during college as a major catalyst in directing her future aspirations. She joined the Cambodian Awareness Organization (CAO) at UC Irvine in 2012 where she found her passion in serving and uplifting her community. Subsequently, she served as CAO’s External Public Relations Officer from 2013-2014 and President from 2014-2015. She also organized and lead CAO’s annual humanitarian trip to Cambodia in 2015 and served as Co-Director for the 11th annual Khmer Student Coalition Conference in 2016. Since graduating, she has remained active in the KSCC network, attending conferences or participating as discussion lead.
Her passion for medicine is inspired by her parents, both of whom are survivors of the Khmer Rouge. Listening to their stories of the atrocities of genocide and later the compassion of her family’s sponsors has put the value of meaningful human connections at her core. She hopes to embody that same compassion with every patient who shares their story with her. Aside from directly serving her future patients, Belinda is also committed to addressing the needs of their communities. She believes that by lowering inequalities in education, income and occupation, we can reduce a wide range of health issues in underserved communities.
Belinda was recently accepted into Duke University’s Physician Assistant Program and will be starting in August 2018.
Born in a refugee camp and raised by a single mother, Mea Lath used her upbringing to motivate herself to get her to where she is today. Mea and her family were sponsored to the United States by her aunt and uncle in 1992. She grew up in Long Beach, California where some of her favorite memories were watching Khmer dancers perform at New Year events.
Mea started dance training at 12 years old in 2002 with Neak Kru (formal way of addressing your teacher) Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, who is one of the founders of Khmer Arts Academy. Khmer Arts Academy taught her more than just dance. She learned an appreciation and awareness for the perseverance of Khmer culture, heritage, and history. Since the age of 13, Mea performed at many great events and venues including culture shows for Khmer Student Organizations across Southern California such as CSULB,CSUF, and UCSD. Being exposed to many college campuses fueled Mea’s desire to go to college even more. In Fall 2008, Mea was the first in her family to go to college. She made the scariest and best decision of her life to leave Long Beach and begin her college adventures. Leaving Long Beach also meant she had to take a hiatus from Khmer Arts but that did not stop her from dancing.
While studying at San Diego State University, she met mentor, Frank Robinson, who really helped guide her through college and even in life today. In 2011, she was offered a teaching position at Khmer Arts and became an apprentice under Neak Kru Charya, the younger sister of Neak Kru Sophiline who is also a master dancer and graduate of the Royal University of Fine Arts, and traveled to Cambodia for dance training alongside other master dancers. After graduating in 2013 with a Journalism degree, Mea made the tough decision to leave the new life she built in San Diego to move back to Long Beach and be closer to Khmer Arts. Today, Mea is a Property and Casualty Technician at Keenan and KAA’s Managing Director and instructor. With her teaching partner and KAA’s Associate Artistic Director, Khannia Ok, she now holds the tremendous and proud responsibility of preserving and elevating Khmer heritage’s thousand year old art form. Through her experiences, she hopes to inspire her students and following generations.
An aspiring poet and performance artist, Sabrina Im grew up always feeling a bit nomadic. Though not a published poet, writing and storytelling has often been the way she would channel her energy into something creative, in order to ground herself. She believes in uplifting and elevating the voices of the Cambodian diaspora; and this belief has continued to fuel her passion for the arts and social justice.
In 2015, she received her BA in World Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and now resides in Los Angeles. Currently, she volunteers her time as the Project Development Coordinator for the Cambodian American Literary Arts Association, as she continues to work towards becoming more immersed in the Long Beach Khmer community. She became involved with the Khmer Alumni Association this year through their mentorship program; and is grateful to the folks and communities she has been lucky to find herself in the company of—especially having never grown up immersed in a Khmer community aside from her family.
In the past, she has worked transnationally with Studio Revolt—a collaborative media lab producing motion imagery + performance projects that grew out of Phnom Penh—and through her transcription and outreach projects, she brought their feature documentary, Cambodian Son, and the deportation issue within the Khmer community, heightened visibility abroad at select universities, international film festivals, and online media platforms.
Sabrina hopes to continue using the written and performing arts as a means for mediating and cultivating multi-generational narratives; as well as mobilizing others to explore their art too. Her work is forthcoming in Issue Seven of TAYO Literary Magazine, and on certain Monday nights you can find her writing with Las Lunas Locas, an LA-based womyn’s writing collective.
Heng Nhoung was born and raised in Long Beach CA to a household that mostly spoke Khmer. Heng realized he took this for granted when he was a student at UC Berkeley where he realized not many students were Cambodian American. After struggling to transition into college, he began volunteering in the Khmer Community in Oakland, CA where speaking Khmer at health fairs allowed him feel at home but also to see that many of ailments affecting aging Khmer Rouge survivors.
He graduated from UC Berkeley in 2013 with a focus in Health Policy. But after his combined experiences in the Khmer community and working in an HIV Clinic at UCSF, he realized he wanted to give back to community through medicine. He spent 3 years working full time in clinical research at the Keck School of Medicine while finishing his requirement for medical school. During his time in LA, he served as a KAA mentor, and also was in charge of logistics of Neurology Outreach Cambodia, a project dedicated to expanding neurology education in Cambodia.
He is currently a medical student at Georgetown University and hopes become a physician that can use his specialty to serve those in need around the world.
Daro Huot has proudly served KAA as the Executive Director for the last two years and has been active on the board for four years. And for the past ten years, he has worked as a Research Analyst for the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) where he works with district leaders, administrators and educators to collect, access and analyze data to support student achievement. LBUSD is the 3rd largest district in California and serves the largest population of Cambodian students anywhere outside of Cambodia.
His passion for learning has taken him far but has kept him close by to his hometown of Long Beach where he attended CSULB and earned his bachelors degrees in English and Sociology in 2005 and masters degrees in public administration in 2007 and counseling in 2014. He also keeps his school counseling credential active by volunteering as a counselor to KAA Scholarship recipients every year.
His involvement in the Cambodian community began more recently in 2013 when he was invited by a friend to attend a KAAfé Talk and instantly connected with KAA members and its mission. He realized that there were many alumni and working professionals like himself that make up an ever-growing subgroup within the population who share the same desire to give back to their community. He truly believes that it is our lifelong obligation as alumni to collaborate and invest in the social capital of future generations through mentorships, professional and leadership development and personal guidance.
Growing up in North Long Beach with limited opportunities and resources, Ron Ung turned to the YMCA of Greater Long Beach Community Development Branch for guidance and opportunities. He has been involved with the YMCA of Greater Long Beach Community Development Branch since he was in teen in 2004.
Ron graduated from UCLA in 2010, and chose to pursue a career to serve others and give back to the program who help shaped him into who he is today by working for the YMCA of Greater Long Beach Community Development Branch after graduating.
In 2011, Ron visited Cambodia for the first time as part of the YMCA/A Cambodia Journey trip. The trip’s purpose was to serve the Cambodian community and to learn about Cambodia’s culture, history, and its people.
The trip left a life-changing impression on Ron as he moved to Cambodia in 2014. Led by his heart, he followed his passion for serving others and now is the Director of the Cambodia YMCA Youth Institute.
Ron believes for a better Cambodia, we have to invest in its youth. His program provides pathways out of poverty by using technology as its vehicle. It equips the youth with academic, social, and workforce skills to help them achieve their maximum potential as young adults.
The cycle of success for him is defined by his youth leading, teaching, and serving others. After his first year of his program, his youth have impacted over 1250 people in the Cambodian community. With this momentum he is looking for his youth and program to do more as they have tripled their enrollment for this year. He implores others all over to do more as he have asked of his team and youth. For those interested in doing more, we would love to have you as part of our team.
Melinda Kuoch is a mental health clinician, advocate, and Long Beach native. She previously served as a Khmer Alumni Association advisory board member as the Commissioner of Alumni Networking. Melinda’s dedication to service within the mental health community began at a young age. As a junior and senior, Melinda served as a Peer Counselor for the CARE Center in Polytechnic High School, effectively sparking her dedication to the mental health community. She then attended the University of California, Irvine (UCI) in which she served as the President of the Cambodian Awareness Organization from 2011-2012. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from UCI in 2012 with her degree in Psychology.
Following her undergraduate education, Melinda served a year with AmeriCorps as a Patient Services Advocate with The Children’s Clinic in Long Beach. Melinda strongly believed in increased accessibility and quality of care for both physical health and mental health services at a community-based level. During this time, she also interned for Long Beach-based Cambodian health non-profit organizations such as Hearts Without Boundaries and the Cambodian Health Professionals Association of America (CHPAA). Melinda then transitioned to serving the Long Beach mental health community as a mental health worker for Mental Health America of Los Angeles (MHALA). She served as part of a LACDMH/MHSA-funded Innovations Grant project in an Integrated Mobile Health Team (IMHT). It was here in which Melinda’s vision for integrated mental health care was truly defined, and drove Melinda to return to school to receive a stronger clinical foundation to provide mental health services. Just this month, Melinda graduated from the University of Southern California with her Master of Social Work degree. She was a Dean’s Leadership Scholar, Co-Chair for the API Social Work Caucus, LACDMH Mental Health Stipend Recipient, and NAADAC Minority Fellowship Program Recipient. Melinda will be returning to the Long Beach mental health community as a mental health clinician, and hopes to provide needed services to the greater mental health community.
Kelley Pheng graduated from California State University, Long Beach in 2015 with a degree in Psychology, and served as Treasurer to the longest running Khmer Student Organization, Cambodian Student Society, from 2014 to 2015. Originally from Modesto, California, she currently resides in San Francisco, CA and is a Diversity Programs Specialist for one of Silicon Valley’s largest tech companies. Prior to her current role, she worked in Recruiting at a leading Software company in Downtown San Francisco where she managed the intern program and was a major driver of many diversity and inclusion initiatives, programs, and events. In addition to recruitment, she helped establish and served as an executive for the company’s employee resource group for People of Color. Not only has Kelley established herself professionally, she has also made her mark within the community. She has been active in community organizing and social justice, working with various organizations in leadership development, youth mentorship, workshop facilitation, and different public speaking engagements. Kelley is also known as a Spoken Word Artist. She is currently working with AYPAL, an organization in Oakland, California, committed to empowering API youth and families, teaching a series of spoken word workshops. From the community space to tech, Kelley believes in helping people reach their potential and is passionate about continuing to be a resource for others.
Clint Menk is an environmental engineering associate for the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation. A 2015 chemical engineering graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, Clint is committed to protecting and improving the health of the public and the environment. Clint resides in the San Gabriel Valley and is an active participant in the Khmer community. He was a member of the United Khmer Students (UKS) at UCLA and continues to foster dialogue with the Khmer and greater Asian-American communities through various channels. He credits some of his success to his involvement with KAA where he attended the Soiree and met his mentor who prepared him for interviews and helped him gain the confidence to pursue his career goals.