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Homepage photo: Elizabeth Kang with her roomate.

Inset Photo: Elizabeth Kang giving a presentation at the Leadership Alliance National Symposium.

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Psychology & Communications Studies

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First-Gen McNair Scholar Breaks New Ground in Scholarship and Self Discovery

Elizabeth KangBy Donna Emert

First-generation scholar Elizabeth Kang is exploring the intersection of race and gender, and what it means for minorities and women in the workplace.

A senior majoring in psychology at the University of Idaho, Kang recently returned from a summer research internship at Stanford University. The internship is a key component of the University of Idaho McNair Achievement Program, supporting high-achieving first-generation, low-income and underrepresented college students.

Kang is the first in her family to attend college. She studied this summer under renowned social psychologist and Stanford professor Deborah Gruenfeld, whose research and teaching examine how people are shaped by the workplace. Gruenfeld is an expert on the psychology of power and group behavior.

This summer Kang worked on three distinctive research projects, all focusing on power in the workplace.
“My whole summer experience at Stanford University was wonderful,” said Kang. “It has definitely enhanced my undergraduate experience because I got the opportunity to work with graduate students in my field, to network with Stanford faculty, and to make lasting friendships.”

As an undergraduate, it was difficult to find university-based programs that helped first-generation students navigate the complexities of higher education and academic choice, said Kang.

The McNair program provided both the tools and the guidance she was seeking.

“I am a first-generation college student from a second-generation Korean-American family,” said Kang. “One challenge associated with being a first-generation student is learning how to become something I have not been exposed to in my family. My biggest challenge has been explaining my research interests and academic goals to my family, even though they are supportive.”

Kang seems to have found her niche in research: she is now shopping for a PhD program in organizational behavior, industrial/organizational psychology or social psychology.

As a woman, a minority and a first-gen scholar, Kang has a unique vantage point into how the categories that define her also influence the power dynamic of the workplace, and beyond.

Kang’s challenge, and her honor, is to continue to break new ground for herself and her family.

“An advantage of being the first in my family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and to pursue graduate school would honestly be the prestige,” she said. “Obtaining a PhD is not only an academic goal, but a personal goal.”