Junior Mai-Nhanh “Mai” Dao was nominated for the student spotlight as part of the 2022 “Tell Me Something Good” initiative.
“Tell Me Something Good” is a two-part project led by Student Life that allows members of the Newman community to nominate both an individual student as well as a group of students who are making a positive difference on a monthly basis. The students selected will then be recognized on campus throughout their featured month.
According to director of multicultural engagement and campus life Vanessa Rials, Dao was nominated for her outstanding involvement as a leader both on and off-campus.
“Mai is really involved and a pretty awesome student of ours,” Rials said.
Leaving her mark
Dao is an interdisciplinary studies major with an emphasis on Spanish, political science and economics. She is a member of the Newman Cheer and Dance team, Campus Activities Board (CAB), the Multicultural Leadership Organization, President’s Student Cabinet and recently finished her fifth semester of work as a student assistant in the President’s Office. Dao will also perform in the spring musical, “Big Fish,” with performances Feb. 3-6.
Off-campus, Dao is an active volunteer with the Wichita Asian Festival, serving as a committee member and secretary. She also tutors low-income and first-generation high school students through the college preparatory program, Upward Bound Wichita Prep and serves as a staff member of the VIA-1 (Vietnamese Interacting as One) Conference.
Combining her love of dancing and her cultural Cambodian pride, Dao is also involved with Robam Munivongsa, a traditional Cambodian dance troupe associated with the Khmer Krom Buddhist temple, Wat Munivongsa.
“I decided to gather a few individuals to learn the art of traditional Cambodian dance with me,” Dao said. “Through our dance troupe, we aim to educate and preserve the Cambodian culture and traditions in the greater Wichita community.”
Making Wichita history
Despite all of her time commitments and extra-curricular activities, Dao also serves on the executive board of the Thai, Lao, and Cambodian Association (TLC) at Wichita State University. Dao was elected as the TLC cultural chair for the 2020-2021 academic year and works as the executive director of the Miss Cambodia Wichita Pageant — a pageant never before seen in Wichita.
“As a Cambodian myself, I wanted to see more Cambodian representation in the Wichita community,” Dao said. “There is a good amount of Cambodians that reside in Wichita, but there are not many Cambodians being socially and civically active beyond the Cambodian community itself.”
She added, “If it’s important to me that I am advocating for every individual to be represented — no matter the difference — why not include my own ethnic group?”
The pageant not only built awareness of the Cambodian-American population in Wichita but also gave these young women opportunities to earn scholarships for future educational and business endeavors.
“I am truly overjoyed that my committee and I were able to successfully hold the first-ever 2021 Miss Cambodia Wichita Pageant during uncertain times,” Dao said. “I also would like to thank my committee, pageant sponsors, pageant patrons, those that supported the process of this pageant and are continuously supporting it.”
Life in the long-term
Dao said she feels empowered to know that she is valued at Newman and recognized for her merits.
“This motivates me to continuously care for all the organizations I am a part of, and continue to do what I do,” she said.
Through her recognition with this month’s student spotlight, Dao hopes people are reminded that “not everyone has their ‘why’ in life.”
“There are many uncertainties in life that you may not even know what you will be eating for dinner tonight,” she said. “It is completely OK to not have a goal or a solid answer to any question. Life will unfold slowly and gradually, but you must be conscious and aware of life itself.”
One of Dao’s dream jobs is to be an on-site worker for a nonprofit humanitarian organization outside of the United States, but she also understands that this dream could change.
“I just want to be able to physically and mentally help those in less fortunate situations,” Dao said. “I enjoy helping out and don’t mind the labor as long as it’s for a good cause. I want it to be outside of the United States because it’ll be nice to learn about different cultures and the society beyond the U.S.”
Beginning Monday, Jan. 10, Dao started a mostly remote internship with the Kansas Hispanic & Latino American Affairs Commission (KHLAAC), a part of the Governor’s Office of Kansas in Topeka. She will occasionally travel to Topeka for her role and will wrap up the internship in May.
“Student Spotlight” and “Tell Me Something Good” nominations are now being accepted for the 2022 spring semester.
Tell Me Something Good
Do you know of a group in the Newman community that deserves recognition? Submit your nomination today to help recognize those who are making a positive difference. The Student Life office will consider all nominations and announce the group with the most outstanding nomination(s).
Do you know a Newman student who deserves recognition? Submit your nomination today to help recognize a student who is making a positive difference. The Student Life office will consider all nominations and announce the group with the most outstanding nomination(s).