Tina Wong, a veteran and transfer student from San Jose, California, will graduate in June with a degree in economics. After moving to Chicago, she plans to pursue a career supporting clean energy initiatives in the nonprofit or public sector. She is a winner of the Stanford Alumni Association’s J.E. Wallace Sterling Award, which recognizes a graduating senior whose leadership and volunteer activities have made a significant impact on the campus community.

Image credit: Andrew Brodhead

Tina Wong has often felt like an outsider – a perspective that has given her insight into herself, her communities, and the world.

Wong grew up in a working-class family in San Jose. Her father immigrated from Hong Kong, and her mother is a refugee from Vietnam of Chinese descent. In high school, Wong questioned her path to college, so she pivoted and joined the military.

After four years as an Army medic, she enrolled in the College of San Mateo. There, she connected with Service to School, which helps veterans apply to higher education. A leader pointed Wong toward Stanford.

Wong knew she would be different from most undergraduates: She was a first-generation student, a transfer student, married, and a veteran. But she quickly built relationships as a work-study student in Stanford’s Office for Military-Affiliated Communities, and her contributions in the role, which continued throughout the pandemic, proved critical.

“It wasn’t until I got to Stanford that I really got to digest what being a veteran meant, especially as I became a leader,” she said. “I got that validation that even though I’m not my own conception of what a service member looks like, it doesn’t make me any less of one.”

In 2020, Wong helped establish the Memorial Day Candlelight Vigil honoring Stanford’s fallen service members. The vigil has become an annual tradition, and Wong considers it one of her proudest accomplishments.

Wong also found a community among her fellow transfer students. Being a student and co-lead in Transfer 101 gave her an opportunity to connect with people across majors, confront imposter syndrome, and reflect on her Stanford experience.

The Asian American Interactive Mentoring (AIM) program helped her explore another aspect of her identity, as did a full year of formal Cantonese instruction.

This summer Wong will make another significant pivot. After three summers interning with a corporate firm, she has decided to explore careers where she can work directly with communities – ideally in the context of the transition to clean energy.

“Feeling like an outsider, in a way, gives me the benefit of perspective; it helps me understand the way things work and see how people are affected,” Wong said. “I want to be somebody who helps move the mechanisms that our society is built upon.”

Story by Andrew Brodhead, Harry Gregory, Kurt Hickman, Julia James, and Tara Roberts.