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Lao American students and why social capital is important

Lao parents play a significant role in students’ academic success, even if they feel they don’t have a lot to contribute because they didn’t attend U.S. schools, speak fluent English, or fully understand American higher education systems. -Dr. Krissyvan Khamvongsa Truong

As 2015 marks 40 years of diaspora from Southeast Asia, we caught up with Lao American scholar, Dr. Krissyvan Khamvongsa Truong, who is based in California, on her work, why Lao American students matter, and why social capital is important. Dr. Khamvongsa Truong just released her research study on Lao American students and the achievement issue in the latest book, Southeast Asian Diaspora in the United States: Memories and Visions, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow by Jonathan H.X. Lee


Dr. Krissyvan Khamvongsa Truong

[Abstract] Examining the Academic Achievement of 1.5 and Second-Generation Laotian American Students: A Social Capital Approach

The model minority stereotype makes invisible Southeast Asian students who struggle academically, who underachieve, and who are economically poor. This current research uses social capital as a conceptual framework to better understand the academic experiences of Laotian American students. The investigation focused on social capital acquired through family, social networks, and ethnic communities that contribute to academic achievement. The study involved structured interview questionnaire with twelve Laotian American college students in California, Minnesota, and New York. Data collection was analyzed using content analysis to determine common factors accounting for academic achievement among the study’s participants. Findings revealed that social capital plays an influential role in Laotian American students’ school successes, specifically, structured home environment, parents’ roles, social relationships, and ethnic community resources.

Tell us about your educational journey. What led you to study academic achievement in Lao Americans students? 

I’ve always valued education as long as I can remember so it felt natural to choose a career in Education. As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, I majored in Political Science and minor in Education. I pursued a master’s degree in Education Policy Studies at Columbia University, Teachers College. At Teachers College, I was exposed to different educational issues and policies and became more attune to levels of disparities in the U.S school systems and how it plays out in different social classes and racial groups in society.

I wanted to make a change through policies and research and decided to get my doctorate degree in Education at Claremont Graduate University. I became involved in Asian American research and saw the lack of research on Lao American students’ educational experiences and achievement. The few studies on Lao American students painted a very skew portrait of Lao American academic achievement by focusing primarily on academic deficiency. I want to capture the full stories of Lao American students’ educational experiences by conducting research that examines their academic successes.

What were some surprises you found from the study? 

The levels of involvement Lao parents play in their children’s lives and the extent they support and contribute to their children’s education is very important. That is developing a healthy parent-child relationship, providing a well-structured home environment, and offering words of encouragement when it comes to school are some important factors in fostering Lao students’ academic success. Also, Lao students’ social relationships outside the home with peers, teachers, and social clubs are important avenues for acquiring cultural knowledge and educational resources that maybe limited at home.

You mention ‘social capital’. Define it for us. What does it mean?

There are variances but the one I discuss is a concept that refers to a resource accumulated from social relationships (i.e., social networks) that provide certain form of benefits (i.e., economics or social status) to be used at some point to achieve a goal. These personal social relationships and associations are links or pathways that help to connect you to resources you don’t have or otherwise cannot access that are important to a goal you want to achieve or pursue such as graduating from college or getting that dream job.

What does this study say about Lao American students? 

Lao students are driven and motivated to succeed academically and are cognizant of the extent they can rely on their parents for academic guidance and support. As the result, they cultivate social connections with others to gain information and resources they need whether it’s within the ethnic community or beyond.

Why should this study matter to the Lao community? 

Lao parents plays a significant role in students’ academic success, even if they feel they don’t have a lot to contribute because they didn’t attend U.S. schools, speak fluent English, or fully understand American higher education systems.  This knowledge is certainly important but Lao students are able to acquire this through other means.  Social relationship and emotional factors matters and these are things Lao parents can provide directly to help their children succeed academically and in life.

Finally, where can we learn more about your work? Where can we get a copy of the book?

I present at various academic conferences throughout the United States and some works are still in manuscript phase. Currently, the book is available online and can be purchased through Cambridge Scholars Publishing at

Krissyvan Khamvongsa Truong received her undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley, Masters in International Educational Development from Columbia University, and PhD in Education from Claremont Graduate University. She is currently the Assistant Director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Claremont Graduate University. Her research focus on immigrant acculturation and identity development, Southeast Asian American students’ persistence and academic success, and education stratification in the U.S. and Asia. She has presented her research at various academic conferences, including the American Educational Research Association, Association for the Study of Higher Education, Comparative and International Education Society, Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast, and The National Association for the Education and Advancement of Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese Americans. She serves on the editorial review board for the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement and has work and volunteer with different Southeast Asian Communities throughout the U.S.

-Chanida Potter,


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