Immigrant Finds Way to UNC Degree by way of WPCC


Photo of Tia YangThere are several ways to describe Western Piedmont Community College (WPCC) alumnae Tea Yang including activist, refugee, educator and speaker.  She recently acted in each of these roles as a panelist during the College’s 2015 Fall Speakers Forum/Ervin Constitutional Issues Program titled Immigrant Stories: Face and Facts of Immigration.  Yang, however, prefers to acknowledge the importance of WPCC in her life and says she is a “WPCC Pioneer first.”

She first decided to attend WPCC because of the college’s affordability and convenience.  While she was confident in her decision, she admitted feeling initially nervous about pursuing college.  “I was really intimidated and scared because I had graduated high school and been out the classroom for a couple of years,” she said.

But she remained focused on completing her goal despite the challenges of attending college and working full time.

“I told myself that I was going to be 99 percent tired but that the remaining 1 percent of my energy and drive would push me through and it did,” she celebrated.

Yang realized her goal of earning a college degree and graduated from WPCC in 2011 with an associate in arts.  During her time at WPCC she also became president of the College’s local chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for two-year college students.  She then transferred to UNC Chapel Hill in 2012 and graduated in 2014 with a bachelor of arts in communications focusing on media studies and production.

Yang attributes her success back to her focus on the 1 percent and her efforts to find her own way to success.

“No matter what route you take, if you can’t find yourself then you need to create yourself,” she said in offering advice to current and potential WPCC students.  “Do not try to find that self that you think might be waiting for you.  Go out and create that self on your own.”

Yang is currently exploring career options that will allow her to work with refugees.  This focus is due in part to her personal experience as a child refugee fleeing Laos with her parents and sisters.  “I am a former refugee and can identify firsthand about their plight,” she said.

Yang was two years old when her family left Laos.  Over a two year period, they lived in three refugee camps in Thailand until they finally immigrated to Fresno, California when Yang was four years old.  In 1993, she and her family moved to Morganton so her family could find better employment opportunities.

While at UNC Chapel Hill, Yang and other Hmong students were asked to sit on a panel and share their perspectives on the interactions between the Hmong community and the medical community.  This panel is now an annual event and enabled Yang to learn about the importance of serving minorities and refugees in health related matters and the need to educate the medical community about how to best serve these populations.  She plans to continue this work in the future.

In the meantime, when Yang reflects on her time at WPCC, she fondly remembers her instructors and the opportunities that helped her to open doors she didn’t know she could open.

“At Western Piedmont, I not only found a college that respects and acknowledges diversity, I also found a place that helped me build a foundation to further my education and build on my future,” she said.

Credits earned in WPCC’s associate in arts and associate in science degree programs will transfer to any college or university in the University of North Carolina (UNC) system, in addition to a large number of in-state independent schools.  The degrees are designed in compliance with a Comprehensive Articulation Agreement between the North Carolina Community College System and the constituent institutions of the University of North Carolina. To learn more about WPCC’s transfer degree programs, contact Amanda Rhea, transfer counselor, at (828) 448-3159 or by email at