Published: May 9, 2023 By

Collin Wong uses past experiences and his unorthodox journey to help foster the next generation of students.

Ever since he was a young boy, scholarship recipient Collin Wong, who is graduating from CU Boulder this spring, has considered himself lucky for his family and the role they’ve played in his trajectory. 

“I’ve always said that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants here,” he said. “Not just my immediate family but my extended family like my grandparents. Like a lot of immigrants, they came over looking for a better life and I just hope I can help them realize their decision to come here was right.”

But Wong’s childhood wasn’t always consistent. He grew up initially in Littleton, Colorado, before moving to Aurora in high school. After a brief stint, Wong moved back to Littleton where he graduated high school.

“I consider my childhood twofold. One in Littleton and one in Aurora,” Wong said. “Which is actually a really interesting thing because they’re very different places with different demographics. I think both of them made me realize different things about myself.”

Wong said it was difficult to transition between his Littleton and Aurora communities. As an Asian identifying student, in Littleton he felt like an outsider looking in. A broader and more diverse population in Aurora made him feel more comfortable, but his time there was too brief.

Despite his constant moving, there was one constant for Wong: No matter where he was at, he lacked resources and support in the classroom. 

“High school was difficult for me,” he said. “I finished with a 1.5 GPA because I simply did not have the resources. I also have a lot of learning disabilities and schools just don’t account for that sometimes.”

“And so I didn’t think I was going to go to college,” Wong added. “What college wants to accept someone with a 1.5 GPA? I didn’t even know about the alternative in community college, so I figured it was time to just start working.”

Colin stands on the front steps of Norlin, wearing a Harvard sweatshirt. 

At top of page: Colin wears his grad regalia and stands in front of Hellems building, where he attended most of the classes for his history major. Above: Colin stands on the front steps of Norlin, wearing a Harvard sweatshirt. (Photos by Michele Flores/ODECE)

The break that fueled the passion and prepared the mission

After high school, Wong says he was fortunate enough to connect with the few educators that helped him graduate. They talked him through his options and he ended up at Arapahoe Community College.

With conviction and a newfound purpose, Wong graduated with an associate degree and was set to move on to a four-year institution. Like many others, though, the global pandemic had other plans.

Instead of attending school, Wong took a break and became a paraprofessional at Goddard Middle School in Littleton.

“I just wanted to help my community out,” he said. “But once I started getting into it, it really changed my life. Working with so many different students and getting them to believe in themselves was something I needed in school, so I really took a huge passion with it.”

A year passed and Wong went back to school, this time at the University of Colorado Boulder with the help of the Rothberg Family Community College Opportunity Scholarship. The $10,000 renewable award is available to transfer students from a member institution of the Colorado Community College System with a minimum 3.2 GPA and a strong commitment to higher education.

Randy Rothberg, the scholarship’s donor said Wong’s graduation is a moment of joy. “He has exemplified everything one could want in a scholarship recipient.”

“Personally, he is engaging and has a great sense of humor,” Rothberg added. “Intellectually, he is well-informed in a broad range of topics and is open to learning about almost anything one pushes his way. Our experience with Colin only reinforces the value of providing help to students such as he."

Wong chose to study history, but his love for education never wavered. In fact, Wong believes CU Boulder has only instilled him with the confidence and reassurance that a career in education is the right path.

“I can’t think of a better group of people than the people at CU Boulder,” Wong said. “I mean, seriously, the resources, the staff members, the students. Everyone just wants to help you. Just knowing that I’ve made it here amongst these great people is humbling and I am very prepared.”

A vision of change and excitement for the future

Wong will graduate in May, but his journey is far from over.

“I hate saying this out loud because it sounds like I’m bragging,” Wong said with a chuckle. “But I was accepted to pursue my master’s degree in education at Harvard University.”

Harvard University is often regarded as one of the most difficult colleges to be admitted to, with only a 5% acceptance rate.

But part of the reason Wong hates to share his future plans isn’t because of the esteem, he says. A part of him believes it’s no big deal.

“I think my acceptance into Harvard gave me the exact same feeling I had when I came to CU Boulder,” Wong said. “I went from not doing well in high school to almost being able to walk across the stage here real soon. All of it is just surreal.”

Wong said the application process was so simple that he had actually forgotten that he ever even applied, especially considering his application was a shot in the dark in the first place. Now that he’s been accepted, the excitement has come in waves. The imposter syndrome has, too.

“At first I was telling myself ‘I’m not a Harvard student.’ I can’t do this. There’s too many obstacles,” he said. “The more I reflect on it, the more I’ve started to say that I can do it. My story is a unique one that allows me to bring good insight to Harvard.”

“No matter how good someone’s grades are, or how good their test scores are, they don’t have what I have and that’s my story,” Wong added. “They don’t have my experiences and I had to tell myself that they need my perspective.”

At Harvard, Wong has one goal: to create a more equitable space in the education system where students and parents alike have the same opportunity to learn and succeed. He says schools lack resources. They lack culture and money is not the solution.

“The point of education is not to get good results. That’s great, but the real purpose is to make one a lifelong learner. Every kid in the world has curiosity and we have to figure out how to get that curiosity and passion back in the education system, especially for communities of color,” he said, adding:

“My biggest philosophy when I was teaching at Goddard Middle School was kids do well when they can. My goal is to restore the can.”