Kelly Yang Makes the Most of Her Carlson School Comeback
Friday, April 8, 2022
BY KATELYN VUE
“I don’t want to just rush back in,” Kelly Yang says. “I don’t know what I’m going to go for, and I’m just gonna be in that same boat that I was [in] before so … I logged back into my U of M email for the first time in like eight years. found Anny’s email and I emailed her.”
Despite her reservations, hitting the send button set Yang back on a path she had left six years prior, when she had been a first-generation freshman student at the Carlson School. Anny Lin was Yang’s academic
advisor way back then.
Lin’s response was warm, excited, and immediate. She wanted a meeting right away, eager to help reignite Yang’s spark for a degree, and ultimately, a new, fulfilling career.
By the spring of 2021, Yang would walk in her graduation ceremony, with a degree in Management Information Systems in hand. But her journey to achieve it is far from textbook.
An Early Achiever
In elementary school, Yang stood apart from her classmates.
In first grade, Yang’s aptitude for numbers catapulted her from her regular math class into ones alongside third-graders. By high school, she was consistently earning top grades in all subjects and scored high on the ACT. Yang says there wasn’t a doubt in her family or herself that college was in her future.
She’d nailed the academics. But there were other struggles. Yang is the youngest of seven siblings, and the daughter of a single mother who was working full-time to make ends meet. Money was tight. And navigating the transition to college was also not rich with resources: Her oldest sibling, 12 years her senior, was the first in her family to graduate from college.
All of this made affordability a major factor in her college search. Yang’s outstanding scholarship earned her a full ride, but living expenses were not covered. Yang narrowed her search to avoid paying out-of-state tuition and taking on too much debt with student loans.
She set her sights on the Carlson School of Management: It checked all her boxes and aligned with her goal to work in finance.
A Campus Disconnect
Her campus kickoff did not get off to an auspicious start.
Yang says she was extremely overwhelmed. Welcome Week felt chaotic. Being grouped together with students she didn’t know was uncomfortable. And not seeing many other Hmong students in the Carlson School left her feeling anxious and left out.
She was surprised to find these feelings creeping quickly into her academic performance. She struggled more than she expected.
“I think it was just very confusing. And then what you were kind of led to think what college should be, wasn’t really what it was,” Yang says. “Once you got behind, there was no catching up.”
For the first time, she started receiving bad grades. The number of late assignments piled up. Yang says it was difficult for her to find motivation to study and keep up with the amount of school work.
Lin was alerted to Yang’s academic slide, so she reached out to strategize and get her back on track. Lin says she remembers that Yang was quiet, and that Yang mentioned that she felt isolated being one of the few Hmong students at the Carlson School.
Meanwhile, Yang was working as a teller at Wells Fargo, earning good money for an 18-year-old. Eventually, she earned a promotion.
During her first semester, Yang held on to a 2.308 GPA, but she failed all of her classes the next two semesters.
Yang says her breaking point was when she took an accounting class her sophomore year.
“I realized that I absolutely hated finance. I hated accounting,” she says. “And I’m in Carlson. It’s not like I can just switch my major to psychology or something like that, like you’re in a business school, you have to switch.”
Her failing grades meant she would be suspended from the Carlson School for a year. And Yang says she didn’t want to continue hurting her GPA, so she made the decision that ultimately changed her life: She took a break.
Lin did not hear from Yang for the next six years.
“I kept realizing that what I wanted to do wasn’t what I was already doing, but I couldn’t connect the dots of what I wanted.”
Yang says she didn’t take this decision lightly. She’d always been a star student. So she promised herself that she would return to school before she turned 25. It hurt, and some of her family members took it hard as well, especially her mom. In retrospect, Yang says, the break was needed—and it helped her discover her passion in the end.
No longer a student, Yang devoted her time and energy into her current job, which led to career advancement opportunities. Later on, her job would provide financial stability that Yang says many of her friends in college at the time didn’t have yet.
She also experienced working in different roles that taught her valuable skills and lessons that sparked a new path for her when she started thinking about returning to school.
The pivotal career development point came when she was working as an underwriter.
“It’s not that I didn’t love my job, it just wasn’t exciting. It was a day-to-day grind. I go in and I do my work, I leave. It was very simple to me,” she says. “I kept realizing that what I wanted to do wasn’t what I was already doing, but I couldn’t connect the dots of what I wanted.”
She could have continued on, advancing her career as an underwriter. There weren’t any major obstacles in her way for promotions and success. But something nagged at her: She wasn’t sure she wanted to keep doing it indefinitely.
In order to come back to the University, Yang told herself this time would need to be different. And she knew it was important to not throw away what she learned in the finance industry.
Hence, the email to Lin. Yang told Lin in their first meeting that she noticed a pattern in her roles at work: Business analysts would often come to her for observation and to create new systems to improve operations.
It was a light-bulb moment. Lin told her she had the perfect major in mind: Management Information Systems (MIS).
“It was the Holy Grail calling to me,” Yang says. “[MIS] is literally like managing from the technical people to the business people, and then really getting that mesh in between. That’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
A Second Chance
With a new direction in hand, the two worked together to get re-enrollment paperwork approved. Lin signed on to be Yang’s academic advisor again, supervising her academic probation until Yang earned the right grades.
This time around, Yang was ready. Eight years had passed, and Yang had more confidence, experience, and determination.
Yang says that she wasn’t even sure the Carlson School would allow her to leave and return, so a second chance was extremely important to her. But she never gave up on the idea of making it happen.
“I was excited to get back to the Carlson School and to get that chance, but I knew I was always going to come back,” Yang says. “No one ever doubted that I would come back; it was just a matter of when.”
Her family was relieved when she returned, too.
“I really just wanted to come in and make sure that I graduated, because if it didn’t work … I just didn’t have a plan C,” she says. “I really was determined.”
So, in fall of 2019, her first semester back, she earned a 3.4 GPA. In spring 2020, she officially declared her major in MIS with a minor in Business Analytics. By her last semester, in spring of 2021,
she earned a 3.85 GPA.
Even though Yang was consistently doing well in her classes, she continued seeing Lin regularly.
“She demonstrated incredible determination, the whole time after she came back,” Lin says. “I [felt like I] was talking to two different people.”
Lin says Yang’s story is a significant one. “In my 20-plus-year career, I have had very few, very few, Hmong American students who graduated from the Carlson School, one of the top-notch business schools in the country,” says Lin. “Then to be able to really tell a story, and then use their story to encourage our Hmong American students.”
In Fall 2019, Yang met with career coach Rebecca Dordel to prepare for a career fair. Dordel says she sensed Yang’s concern that employers may view her gap in enrollment negatively.
“When I looked at Kelly’s resumé, and saw this work experience that she had, I immediately reiterated back to her authentically what I believed in terms of skill sets that she uniquely was going to be able to demonstrate to employers that traditional age college students may not be able to demonstrate,” Dordel says. “My goal for that conversation was to show Kelly to believe that to be true, the same way I believed that to be true, and that employers would see it in the same way.”
Along with this shift in mindset, Yang says another major contributing factor to her success this time is that she used Carlson School resources such as career coaching and networking.
Before taking her break, Yang remembers that most of her friends did not go to the Carlson School and oftentimes she felt misunderstood. But when she was at the Carlson School, she also felt like an outsider: In class, teachers frequently and highly encouraged students to use their own networks in assignments and projects—but that world was not accessible to her, either.
“My mom’s friends are not directors of big companies or CEOs of little startup companies. I didn’t have that, but everyone else apparently did,” Yang says. “From the start, I felt very like ‘OK, it’s obviously not what you know, it’s who you know,’ and I still stand by that statement, even after all my time.”
But when she returned with almost eight years of experience in finance, Yang says that she had developed a strong network and unwavering perseverance to achieve her goal. Now, Yang works as an information technology business system analyst at Medtronic.
And she wants to be a resource and network for Hmong students looking for their place, so they don’t feel like she did then.
“You can reach out to me at any time as Hmong students, because I do feel like there wasn’t somebody who already walked my shoes before me,” she says
Anny Lin Celebrates 20 Years of Academic Advising with the Carlson School
Anny Lin received the first LinkedIn message congratulating her upcoming 20-year anniversary as an academic advisor for the Carlson School of Management on November 6, 2021. In the following days, Lin says she kept getting more notifications—almost 90 comments and more than 350 reactions.
It was, perhaps, a reflection of the authentic connections she’s made over the last two decades, both with colleagues and alumni.
Lin said the comments she received from her post linked to students she advised several years ago, who still remember the intimate conversations they had together.
One of Lin’s past students commented, “Anny I remember meeting you for the first time when I was a first-year student sometime during ’99-’00 year … I still remember some of the advice you gave me and now I pass it along to first-year students that I work with!”
As an academic advisor, Lin said she estimates that she helped more than 1,000 students reach their goals.
Her career has been driven in part by her father’s advice and influence: Before leaving Taiwan and moving to the United States, Lin says he told her that she had to work harder to prove that she was worthy to retain her position because she was not one of her American colleagues.
She taught herself how to navigate a predominantly-English world, even though her native language is Mandarin.
“I have always been very interested in attending different workshops, seminars, training beyond academic advising,” Lin says. “I’m still doing it nowadays.”
Going above and beyond played out in her daily work. In 2017, Lin was one of four John Tate Academic Advising award recipients and she said this was an extremely significant achievement to her.
Her influence was felt beyond her office’s four walls: Students and alumni found her so integral to their success that she began showing up socially, too: She even attended Yang’s wedding.
It’s been a lifetime of connection. As she notes in her LinkedIn post: “My boss Jan O’Brien and Jerry Rinehart hired me. My husband, David, has been there supporting me every day since we met in the mid-90’s. Our daughter, Eileen, was growing up in front of many Carlson UG folks; eventually she attended Carlson School and graduated in Spring 2021. And, my family in Taiwan have always been loving and supporting me.”
A student texted her—another indication of the personal relationships she cultivates with students—asking her how she felt on her anniversary. She wrote back: “I am truly thankful and grateful for having been able to work with many people like you, who brought stories to me allowing me to be part of your journey. I have been a lucky one and felt I have not disappointed people.”
This article appeared in the Spring 2022 alumni magazine
Strength is determined by how we rise in the face of challenges.
The Carlson School community remains an unstoppable force.