Dah-in Audrey Kang learned more than aerobics, dance and piano during her training for this year’s Distinguished Young Women of California contest. Kang was Sonoma County’s sole participant, in the running for a portion of $40,000 in academic scholarships. She was one of 28 competitors from across California who traveled to Bakersfield last month. And even though she didn’t win an academic scholarship, the senior at Maria Carillo High School in Santa Rosa took away something more valuable than money.
“I didn’t win anything,” Kang said on a recent day. “But my experiences taught me that I’m very fortunate.”
Part of Distinguished Young Women — a state program that trains participants in categories such as fitness, how to carry yourself in an interview, talent, self expression and scholastics — is giving back. At this year’s state competition, Kang spent a day volunteering at a community service organization that helps women with substance abuse problems get back on their feet by providing financial and legal help.
“I spent the day with people who were trying to fix their lives,” Kang recalled. “I listened, and learned that so many people are faced with hardships. They took the wrong path, but they were getting their lives back on track despite all the things they’ve faced.”
“It was very inspirational and very emotional for me,” Kang added.
Kang, a first-generation Korean American, didn’t slow down after the competition. She’s currently taking rigorous SAT-prep summer courses, and is already beginning her college application process.
“I want to help people,” Kang said, noting that she wants to go into medicine of some kind. “I’m leaning toward pre-med.”
Kang said her parents empowered her to pursue her scientific aspirations, but she credits Distinguished Young Women with ridding herself of her shyness.
“I’ve always had stage fright and have been nervous about speaking in public,” Kang said, “But the program has helped me get over that.” Kang’s father, John Kang, who is a dentist in Santa Rosa, said he’s seen his daughter grow out of her shell since being a part of Distinguished Young Women.
“We couldn’t be prouder of her,” he said. “And she was able to meet amazing, like-minded young women who are also go-getters.”