Campus & Community

Countdown to Commencement: Senior receives scholarship for altruism

Ariel Chang helped start DU’s MIND Club, an organization devoted to de-stigmatizing mental illness and raising awareness of the issue around campus. Photo courtesy of Ariel Chang

Ariel Cheng helped start DU’s MIND Club, an organization devoted to de-stigmatizing mental illness and raising awareness of the issue around campus. Photo courtesy of Ariel Cheng

Ariel Cheng, a senior international studies major with a minor in communication and art, leaves the University as the 2015 recipient of the Scott Reiman Emerging Leader Scholarship. The Reiman Scholarship, which is administered by Denver leadership organization Quarterly Forum, is awarded annually to extraordinary students at the University of Denver. Recipients receive $10,000.

“We are honored to fund DU’s effort to support extraordinary students with scholarship opportunities,” says Ryan Heckman, chairman of Quarterly Forum. “Ariel exemplifies the kind of young talent that could make a difference to the world if given the resources to reach her full potential. Our members feel privileged to support such an important opportunity.”

Cheng was selected for her exceptional leadership and involvement in her community, specifically her role in starting DU’s MIND Club, an organization devoted to de-stigmatizing mental illness and raising awareness of the issue around campus.

“DU’s MIND Club was created with the intent of eliminating the stigma surrounding mental illness through education, conversation and action,” Cheng explains. “As part of the executive board, it is my job to stimulate and encourage that education, conversation and action.”

Cheng carries out her duties by planning weekly meetings, developing events, coordinating opportunities with other organizations, and creating an accessible platform for voices to be heard and resources to be shared.

“The matter of mental health is one that stretches beyond the boundaries of gender, age, race and class,” Cheng says. “It is something I truly believe to be of utmost importance, especially when so many people feel ashamed or embarrassed about what they are going through to the point that it interferes with them getting help. We need to destroy the idea that pain needs to be realized in physical form in order for it be validated and considered legitimate. What makes us human is much more complex than what exists in tangible embodiments, and it is about time that we outwardly accept and recognize this.”

In addition to her work with the MIND Club this year, Cheng has been expanding her global knowledge, specifically through a weeklong trip to Japan. In March, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies granted 23 students a trip to Japan as part of the North American Component to the Kakehashi Project, an organization that promotes people-to-people exchanges between Japan and the world. The project aims to foster mutual understanding between people from the United States and Japan, and to encourage young people to take active roles at a global level.

“The contrast between Japanese and Western culture was incredible to witness, and learning how these things developed through traditional and international histories and relationships was really eye-opening,” Cheng says.

Over the course of the week, Cheng attended lectures given by Japanese professors, met and connected with Japanese students, and experienced what it was like to be a part of a traditional Japanese home.

“Overall, it was an amazing experience,” Cheng says. “It was my first time being in Japan, and despite not knowing any Japanese, I had a fantastic time.”

Cheng has been interested in international studies since she was very young. She comes from a family of refugees who escaped Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge in the mid-’70s, and she is part of the family’s first generation to be born in the United States.

“There were many horrors that my family lived through, and I am always surprised to learn that not many people even know about the Cambodian genocide that killed millions and displaced even more,” Cheng says. “My interest in international studies stems from a lack of understanding: How can events such as these happen, yet remain unknown to most people? I strive to expand my knowledge of places and cultures that I am unfamiliar with.”

With such significant experiences behind her, Cheng looks ahead to a bright future. She plans to take a gap year between graduating from DU and attending law school. Beyond education, Cheng has made a commitment to solidify her beliefs and understand herself as a person.

“I hope to stay mentally and physically focused, but also I hope to remain genuine on my path. I want to shape myself and others in a positive way,” Cheng says. “It is important to remain sincere on this journey, and to also be flexible when the path twists in ways I never planned for. Overall, I continue to remind myself that life is not a straight line, nor a checklist of things that must be completed in a certain order. As long as I have conviction in my objectives and I put my heart into my purpose, there will always be a way to reach whatever I am striving for.”


DU’s spring undergraduate Commencement ceremony is at 9:30 a.m. June 4; visit the Commencement page for more information.


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