It was September 2020, Northeastern was reopening, and Chong Kim-Wong—at that time vice chancellor for student success—knew where she needed to be. So she moved into one of the residence halls on the Boston campus with her husband, Eric Wong, a tax accountant, and their 4-year-old daughter, Madison.
“There was a lot of fear at that time around COVID-19,” says Kim-Wong. “Our testing operation had just started up, and I really wanted to be visible and approachable, and also to role-model that it was safe to be on campus—that we need to be here for our students, and that in-person experiences, done safely, matter.”
Starting June 1, Kim-Wong, who came to Northeastern 14 years ago, will become Northeastern’s vice chancellor and dean of students. In her new role, she will oversee housing operations, residential life, residential security, off–campus services, and cultural and spiritual life. As she has throughout her career at Northeastern, she plans to continue connecting with students and their families in a personal way. One of her goals is to meet every student in the freshman class of 2021-22—a goal that is attainable as the university is welcoming all students onto a normal and fully operational campus in the fall.
“What’s important for me is the relationship-building piece,” Kim-Wong says. “What I really want is to engage in a conversation and really understand where you’re coming from—whether it’s a frustration or excitement or a challenge. I can help you get to where you want to be. I can connect you with the appropriate resources.
“I want students to just see me as a person that’s here to help and make their experience better,” Kim-Wong says. “If I can achieve that, that’s all that matters.”
The past year on campus has provided Kim-Wong with all kinds of memories. Her daughter would scooter around campus, singing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song and warning the people she met to cover their noses with their masks. Madison’s artwork inspired Kim-Wong to arrange for the children at the Russell J. Call Children’s Center on campus to provide personalized “get well” cards to students who were in quarantine during the pandemic.
“Chong has a lived experience that is similar to a lot of our students,” says Madeleine Estabrook, senior vice chancellor for student affairs. “They can see themselves in her. The dean of students is really an important role that is accepting and gregarious and inclusive, and she completely embodies all of those terms.”
Kim-Wong was 7 when she and her brother emigrated from South Korea to the United States (settling in Connecticut) with her parents, who wanted her to become the first person in the family to attend college. She recalls feeling overwhelmed while applying to the University of Vermont, where she graduated with a bachelor’s in secondary education in 2005, and two years later with a master’s in higher education student affairs administration.
“I applied for the FAFSA wrong,” Kim-Wong says of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. “My parents didn’t speak English, and I remember my mom giving me four Social Security numbers. My brother and I have the same first name, and so I put his Social Security number down.”
She has recalled many such incidents in her ongoing work with WeCare, a Northeastern program that helps students overcome various challenges, including personal crises, that may impede on their academic success.
“College is such an exciting time, but it’s hard to navigate,” says Kim-Wong, who has earned a master’s of business administration and a doctorate in education from Northeastern. “I might not know the answer, but I will find someone that does. I’ve been on campus for 14 years, I’ve lived in the residence halls, so I feel like I have some tips and tricks in my back pocket that I can pull out if needed.”
Kim-Wong came to Northeastern in 2007 as a residence director, working her way up within Student Affairs. She created the university’s Social Justice Resource Center in 2011 as a hub of innovative, justice-minded thinking, collaboration, and action that contributes to the common good.
Kim-Wong has been known to cold-call parents when she sees them expressing concerns via social media. She says she attempts to model Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, in his habit of meeting students on daily walks around campus.
“If you have issues and you reach out to her, she will make the time for you,” says Daniela Rodriguez, a recent Northeastern graduate in political science and international affairs who served as a student resident assistant. “A lot of people are intimidated by titles, but once you meet Chong, that kind of fades away and she’s just another person who is here to help you—who actually has the power to help you.”
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