The University of Colorado Denver is a long way from the Southeast Asian country of Laos—but for one Laotian family, the urban campus has come to feel like home. Since 1976 when the first Vue family members immigrated to the United States, 19 relatives have graduated from CU Denver, and several more are currently enrolled as students.
“At CU Denver, I felt like I was part of a family, due to the diversity there,” said Kongfong Vue, the family’s first CU Denver graduate. “CU Denver felt like it was meant for me.”
Kongfong earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the College of Engineering and Applied Science in 2004, and after his positive experience, he recommended the university to his younger brother, Wameng Vue, and his younger cousin, Chen Vue. Both followed in Kongfong’s footsteps, earning engineering degrees from CU Denver.
After that, Chen said, it was kind of a chain reaction.
Rising above history
Chen’s younger brothers—Jay Vue, Mua Michael Vue and Vee Vue—chose CU Denver for their bachelor’s degrees. Chen’s, Jay’s and Mua’s wives—Nhu Lor, Sia Lor and Crystal Huynh, respectively—earned bachelor’s degrees from CU Denver’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), and Sia went on to get a master’s degree from the School of Education and Human Development. Two of Chen and Kongfong’s younger cousins graduated from CU Denver’s Business School, and still more Vue cousins, nieces and nephews are continuing the family legacy at the university.
“It makes you feel good that you can make it in higher education, with the history of where our parents came from,” Kongfong said.
The Vues are part of the Hmong ethnic group from the mountainous regions of Laos. Because the Hmong people aided the U.S. in the Vietnam War, they were driven from their homes by the Viet Cong when the war ended.
Chen’s and Kongfong’s parents came to the United States in the late 1970s as refugees, and Chen and Kongfong are part of their family’s first generation born in the United States.
Family comes first
While the Vues are nearly 8,000 miles from their roots in Laos, they all live within about 15 minutes of one another, in cities northwest of Denver.
“We all grew up together and kind of stuck together,” Chen said. He remembers playing basketball with his brothers and cousins every night after school and getting up early on weekends to go hunting in the Rocky Mountains with their fathers and uncles.
With such strong bonds from a young age, it may be no surprise then that many of the family members chose the same college.
“Family is very important,” Jay said. “It’s everything.”
A focus on education
Right after “family” on the Vues’ priority list comes “education.”
“Education has always been a focus in our culture,” Kongfong said of the Hmong people. “Our parents and grandparents were strict about education and about taking advantage of the benefits of living in America.”
Kongfong’s and Chen’s parents did not achieve higher education, so Kongfong and Chen, as well as their siblings and cousins, were first-generation college students.
“I don’t know if it’s a typical Asian thing, but our parents were hard on us about getting good grades,” Chen said. He struggled in school as a child but began to excel in middle school. Later, he found CU Denver’s flexible schedules and small classes to be a good fit for his busy life with a part-time job.
“I really liked the close interactions you could get with professors at CU Denver,” said Chen, who now works for Intrex Aerospace in Thornton. “My teachers started to know me, and that made me feel more grounded and at home.”
And having his brothers, cousins and future fiancé right on the same campus didn’t hurt either.
The CU Denver connection
If the Vues are forming a legacy at CU Denver, they’ve already formed one in the university’s College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS). So far, seven Vues are CEAS alumni.
When Kongfong’s nephews showed up for their engineering class with Associate Professor Sam Welch, PhD, the instructor asked if they knew Kongfong and commented on how many Vue family members had majored in mechanical engineering.
“I found that kind of amusing,” said Kongfong, who now works for Oracle software and hardware company in Broomfield. “We would never expect him to remember our name after all these years.”
The Vue name may be recognized throughout the university if the legacy continues—and it seems bound to. Chen and Kongfong, who each have two children, say they would encourage their kids to go to CU Denver when they’re older.
“It’s a CU Denver connection,” Kongfong said.
Guest contributor: Amy Ventura