Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, Mai Khou Xiong immigrated to the United States with her family as a toddler and grew up in Fond du Lac.
“Education was not an opportunity for my parents, so it was important to them that I get an education,” said Xiong, the new University of Wisconsin-Stout Multicultural Student Services director.
While earning her business administration degree at UW-Oshkosh as a first-generation college student, Xiong, a Hmong-American, developed an interest in working in higher education to help shape its future. She continued her education at the university with a master’s degree in educational leadership.
“Growing up first-generation and a woman of color, I did not see role models and people like me in leadership,” Xiong said. She realized she wanted to change the climate and be a part of the solution for inclusion, welcoming people of color into conversations because representation matters.
In Xiong’s role as MSS director, she is a key team member for equity, diversity and inclusion and has administrative responsibility for the Multicultural Student Services office.
Xiong started at UW-Stout on Jan. 19. She previously worked at UW-Oshkosh as acting director of Student Achievement Services and assistant director of Multicultural Retention Programs in the Division of Academic Support of Inclusive Excellence. In 2018, Xiong was one of 15 recipients of the UW System Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award.
Xiong was attracted to UW-Stout because of the intentional dialogue taking place on the campus on equity, diversity and inclusion and specifically making it a part of the FOCUS 2030 plan, which sets goals and initiatives for the next decade.
“This position allows me to continue to do the work I am passionate about, which is supporting students to and through college and beyond, centering students in conversations, and making sure they matter,” Xiong said.
Dominique Vargas, associate dean of equity, diversity and inclusion, said she feels lucky and excited to have Xiong as the leader of the MSS team. “Mai Khou brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience in working with historically underrepresented and underserved populations to UW-Stout,” Vargas said.
“Mai Khou is also incredibly student-focused, which is important, as students are at the heart of everything we do in MSS. Mai Khou is also a strategic thinker and planner, able to see both the big and small picture. (She) asks great questions and brings new ideas to the table every day.”
UW-Stout’s undergraduate minority student population is about 11%. In the fall, 956 students at UW-Stout identified as underrepresented minorities.
MSS strengthens university enrollment, retention and graduation of Black, Native American, Asian and Hispanic/Latinx students. It provides academic and personal support, intercultural and leadership development, and opportunities to connect with others who value diversity and explore intersections of cultural identities.
MSS also prioritizes academic success with the goal for students to graduate while striving for a healthy balance between school, work, family, leadership and community involvement.
MSS is in two locations on campus, room 217 in Bowman Hall, and room 132 in Merle M. Price Commons. It also has the Stoutward Bound Learning and Living Community for first-year American ethnic minority students. Students move to campus two weeks before the start of the fall semester and participate in workshops on transitioning to college. They also take general psychology and fundamentals of speech class together during their first year.
They live together in a multicultural community and are given opportunities for personal growth through workshops, community activities and leadership development. They also meet with an adviser and peer mentors. Stoutward Bound has been shown to increase the retention and graduation of minority students.
MSS also offers financial support through multicultural scholarships awarded to eight students a year and the Lawton Undergraduate Multicultural Retention Grant. “We know that financial hardship is one of the barriers that impacts student retention. Grants and scholarships help to reduce the financial burden on students,” Xiong said.
UW-Stout has several student organizations that explore culture and identity and provide an opportunity to learn and grow through interaction. They include Black Student Union, Hmong Stout Student Organization, Latinos Unidos and Native American Student Organization.