Spring 2024

Class Act

University of Wisconsin alumni Magic Vang
Photo by Michael P. King


The son of Hmong refugees, Magic Vang BS’23 was urged by his parents to pursue a higher education — not just for his future but for theirs as well. And he felt their encouragement push him even further.

“I think the deeper message from my parents is to help the community that we come from, the Hmong,” says Vang, a first-generation college student. “That was my inspiration to come to UW.”

That deeper message continued to guide Vang during his time on campus. It led him to UW’s Midwest Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Disease, where entomology professor Susan Paskewitz and scientist Xia Lee MS’12, PhD’18 lead a project designed to engage and assist Hmong people in Wisconsin. The first goal is to better understand Hmong knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to ticks and tick-borne illnesses. The second is to use that understanding to create outreach materials in the Hmong language (something currently lacking) that increase awareness of these diseases in the Hmong community.

When Vang learned about the project’s existence, he was ecstatic — it was exactly what he came to UW to do. “This [was] a good starting point for me because I want to help,” says Vang. “I want to get involved in public health, and I want to get involved in learning and helping my community.”

Soon after joining the project team, Vang applied for a Wisconsin Idea Fellowship grant to support the effort. The fellowships, which come with financial support, are awarded annually by the UW Morgridge Center for Public Service to undergraduate student research projects aimed at addressing issues in a local or global community.

The grant allowed Vang and his team to travel to Hmong community events. There, they staffed booths and surveyed Hmong people to discover what they know — or don’t — about ticks. After gathering survey data from more than 200 community members, the team had what they needed to develop outreach materials. Vang and Lee are also using the survey results as the basis for a scientific paper. It will be submitted to a peer-reviewed academic journal this year.

Wisconsin Idea Fellowships require collaboration with a relevant community partner; in this case, Vang worked with multiple Hmong organizations around Wisconsin and neighboring states, including The Hmong Institute in Madison.

“Many in the Hmong community enjoy spending time outdoors, such as fishing, hunting, camping, and hiking,” which puts them at greater risk for tick-borne diseases, says Hmong Institute CEO Peng Her. “It’s important to have information about Lyme disease in the Hmong language and available to the Hmong community.”

One way Vang plans to convey this information is through infographics. Simple, full of engaging images, and presented in the Hmong language, the infographics will be a useful reference for Hmong people. Vang intends to make them available at The Hmong Institute and similar locations.

“We don’t expect everyone to use bug spray or apply pesticides to their clothes, but if we can get people to do tick checks or even just be conscious of the dangers that are in the outdoors, then that is a great win,” Vang says.

Vang graduated in December with a degree in global health, but he’ll continue working on this project through spring 2024. He also hopes to pursue a graduate education. “I really like research,” Vang says. “I think if I can get involved in research and become a scientist, I could really make a big impact, especially in public health.”

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