Meet Nicholas Kang: Global Educator and Peace Initiator

This summer, instead of lounging by the pool or mowing his neighbor's lawn, Nicholas Kang '12 made a difference. "I want to be involved with education reform," he said. "It is something I am extremely passionate about." This summer, as a Davis Project for Peace Grant recipient, Nicholas spent time in British Columbia, Canada (where he is originally from) implementing a grassroots organization for teens in the Merritt area.

The Davis Project for Peace awards up to $10,000 to driven college students to encourage and support today's motivated youth to implement their own ideas for building peace in today's world. Nicholas originally applied for the grant as a freshman in 2009, proposing a summer camp for teens in Merritt, British Columbia. " The town was struggling with youth-related issues – drug and alcohol abuse, violence, homelessness, and drop-out rates," Nicholas said. "What I identified was not that the youth were troubled, but that the culture of negative youth stereotypes were disenfranchising the youth from society before they even had a chance." His goal was to find and encourage youth that could act as leaders of social change. While he did not receive the Davis grant that year, Nicholas prevailed and founded the Smart Step Youth Association.

Through his work, Nicholas has noted some needs in the youth community that were not being met by his work alone. For example, Nicholas found that there was a distinct lack of outreach to First Nation (Native American) youth in the area, a lack of programing for youth that were less civic minded, and few opportunities for youth that wanted to take on leadership roles. In answer to these problems, Nicholas founded the Li-k'ei Project, and once again applied for the Davis grant. This time, he was successful.

To apply, Nicholas wrote a two-page proposal for the project, and created a proposed budget. He then had to be chosen by a St. Olaf subcommittee to represent the school in his application, to whom he had to describe his plan thoroughly. The main goals of the project included: establishing a full-time Teen Center in Merritt, investing more time and resources into First Nations outreach (which included delegated mentors and facilitators) and the initiation of a Youth Council to provide young people a political voice. With the help of the grant, Nicholas did just that. Throughout the summer, Nicholas and his teammates (who filled the roles Youth Council Coordinator and First Nation mentors, among others) watched the program grow from 12 youth to over 75 youth by the end of the summer. 

"Sometimes, we had problems with bureaucracy," notes Nicholas, mentioning struggles with obtaining their building for the Teen Center and getting program logos approved by the partnership organization. But through the struggles, Nicholas and his team's hard work paid off. "It was such a rewarding experience to see over 60 youth of different ethnic, social and economic backgrounds come together by the end of the summer," he said. "Also, all of the partnership organizations found value in what I had worked for, and they took the project under their responsibility upon my departure."

Now back at school, Nicholas is continuing to explore this desire and passion to give back. He has worked hard to create his own major through the Center for Integrative Studies, which he calls "Social Innovation and Community Development." He couples this with a second major in Biology. "From entering the college as a pre-med Chemistry and Math major, I feel as if my experience here at St. Olaf has allowed me to step outside the pressures to be 'that doctor' or be 'that corporate manager,' " Nicholas said. "St. Olaf has supported my investigation of my own vocation, and supplied me with opportunities to refine that vocation."

For example, Nicholas is heavily involved in the Campus Community Connection House and Oles Advancing Social Innovation and Sustainability. He is also co-director of Pause security. "Most of these involvements simply align with my interests," he says. "They have helped me learn how to manage resources and individuals, as well as provide me plenty of opportunities to problem solve in real world situations."

Nicholas's work and dedication have inspired him to share this message with his fellow Oles: "Be opportunists and don’t have regrets.  End each day knowing that three, five, 15 years down the road, you will be happy with how you invested your time the way you wanted to, with how you took advantage of the opportunities presented to you, and with how you did all that you could do as privileged students at this institution."