Meet Johnson Yang, a Maisin 2013 alumnus. Johnson graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School and attended San Francisco State University, majoring in molecular and cellular biology. Johnson will attend Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in the Fall for his Ph.D. program.  

Tell me about you, your family, and where you grew up?     

I am a first-generation and came to the US when I was 10. My parents and I did not speak a single word of English upon arriving in the states. It was the most challenging adjustment.  It’s just me and my older sister and parents. I grew up in the sunset area, which I would say is an Asian community. Although you would think I would have felt at home, making friends was still hard. It was a complete cultural shock, and even when you saw and related to others, it was still challenging because of language barriers.  

I adapted to the unfamiliar environment and did what I needed to do in school. I found myself spending time with the wrong crowd. I did okay in school with little thought about my future and without a plan.  I even went to San Francisco State University (SFSU), so I never really left the district. The first time moving to Chicago will be at the end of August 2022.   

How was that process as a first-generation student for you?      

As a first-generation student, it was tough. My parents didn’t get a chance to have proper education and never completed high school. My sister was already in college when I was a senior in high school, so I had to go through many of these processes alone. She was 16 years old when she came here and was learning to navigate college herself, without support. So, she couldn’t guide me either.  

I always knew I wanted to be successful in whatever it was. My parents always encouraged me to go to school. But I really had to go out of my way to understand what schooling could do for my future. Studying wasn’t something for me, and I didn’t know college was in my future because of my parents’ background. I felt that I didn’t have the best GPA compared to my peers, but I applied to Maisin as they gave chances to students with GPAs ranging between 2.0 and 3.5, which I had. It was a blessing. With the support of my counselors and advisors, they helped me through it.   

I learned a lot during the application process for college and scholarships. I learned that even if I fall, I will bounce. There will be multiple things you fail in life, but if you work hard, you will be fine. Learning to advocate for [myself] was something I’ve learned as well.  

What did you study at SFSU? How did you know you wanted to be in your field now?   

I went to SFSU during my undergraduate and earned a degree in molecular and cellular biology. I will move to Chicago in the fall to start my Ph.D. program. I still don’t know if I want to be in this field, but my passion for life science was driven by high school and how much I learned from there. The area I will always be interested in is biology. However, in the long term, my goal is to have my own investment firm.  

But also, I understand that things could change, and I could even go into a different field. I am open-minded and still learning about my goals for the future.  

What advice would you give to other scholars going through college?   

Be open-minded, nice, resilient, and don’t give up easily on things you want to do. Make sure you’re collaborating and engaging with others. They bring in different perspectives, and you could learn much from them.  

Do you want to say anything to our scholars starting school in the fall?  

Time management! Don’t put your eggs in one basket. I always tried to juggle a lot. It teaches you balance and priorities. I was working multiple jobs and went to school. I wanted to pay back, and supply added support for my parents. 

With time management, you learn that you can do a lot. Therefore, work hard, work smart, and work together.