RIT/NTID Diversity Spotlight

Full name of the subject of the spotlight.

[ID: RIT National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Office of Diversity and Inclusion. AAPI Month Spotlight. Background is a gradient of pink to orange. Pictured in a pink circle is Melissa Keomoungkhoun, an Asian woman with black chest-length hair and a black and white striped turtleneck. “I strive to be an example to my sisters, my family and my friends to always thrive and be one step ahead. - Melissa Keomoungkhoun '15 '16. Marketing Event Coordinator. Sorenson Communications. Advertising and Public Relations BS. Hospitality and Tourism Management MS." Multiple white circles of different opacities are posted throughout the image.]

Melissa Keomoungkhoun ‘15 ‘16


Marketing Event Coordinator

Sorenson Communications

What is your ethnicity? Give me a background on where you’ve been.
I am a first generation Laotian-Australian-American who grew up in Texas. I was born in Australia, moved to Belgium, where my parents found out I was deaf. We moved back to Australia for better opportunities and access to language. When my sisters were born, we moved to Switzerland for a year and a half, then back to Australia where I learned Australian sign language which escalated my academic and social skills.

Moved to North Carolina where I learned ASL. Moved to Texas, then back to Australia - where I did not learn or use sign language. I didn’t practice my communication skills. My parents realized that America was better for me, so we moved back to Texas. From there, I attended middle school, high school, community college and eventually RIT.

What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?
Growing up, I’ve always been taught to honor and value those who raise you, how much they sacrifice for us to have a better life. My dad was a refugee in the late 1970’s. He and his family gave up their native Laos to relocate to Australia where they were able to set the foundation for future generations like myself and my sisters.

AAPI month is a month of reflection to respect and honor what our families have done for us.

It brings some value such as sharing, teaching, caring and being generous to other people.

It’s also a time to embrace your identity and unite with the community.

Name someone who inspires you and why?
Inspires me? Whew. If I had to choose someone who inspires me,  I have my husband, family and friends who always remind me to be a better person. When you follow someone’s footsteps, you want to be able to provide that to someone else. I want to be an example to my sisters, family and my friends to thrive and be one step ahead. I always encourage people to be better than they are today.

Career-wise, my manager inspires me. She’s a woman and has encouraged me to speak up more often. She taught me to understand the audience so I can know I am respected as a woman. She’s also a wonderful mentor and I believe that I will be able to lead the way she does. She’s the reason I absolutely love my job and I don’t know who would be a better manager or mentor than her. 

Both together, they show me that I’m capable of a lot. If i can do it, everyone can do it. Just believe in yourself.

As the founder of Asian Hungry, name your favorite cultural dish.
My favorite cultural dish… that is hard! If my mum was a part of this interview, she would be able to identify it immediately for me. I would have to say chicken larb with sticky rice. Larb is a meat salad with different types of herbs and seasonings. I haven’t featured it on my blog yet as it’s a lot of work and time, but I do intend to show it someday.

Just like it takes time to bring people together and coordinate schedules, I like bringing people together through food so I can learn more about people’s upbringings and experiences.

Through food, we’re able to show each other affection. It’s like, “Hey, I’m making your favorite dish!” and I end up staying with my parents a bit longer.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?
There are so many angles of accomplishments we can discuss. It could be anything. I was the single lone deaf high school student. I went to RIT alone. I went and made a huge move to Utah to work for Sorenson alone. I transferred from a local community college, got two degrees and got a job. It isn’t something I did alone as I went on because I had people around me to support and push me further.

What can the world do to better support the development and enrichment of the AAPI community?
With the political climate amongst Asians, I would like people to educate themselves more. Be more proactive and engage with the community better. That will surely help make things better. Some resources to enlighten yourself with the AAPI community are listed below…

Share a quote that you resonate with.
“I know a beautiful soul when I feel one. The empath in me honors the authentic in you.”

I’m an empath so I feel everything and go out of my way to make sure people are good. This resonates with me, especially within the AAPI community because we all share different values and experiences. When we share stories, I honor it and respect it.

What advice would you give your younger self?
If I could go back to tell my younger self, I would tell her to learn to speak up more. Share your concerns, your feelings and your perspective. By doing that, you will be able to be recognized and celebrated for your efforts and contributions. Keep in mind that everyone runs their own race at their own pace. You’ll get there.

How has RIT/NTID aided you in your professional or academic journey?
They provided organizations and clubs that allowed me to feel included. RIT provided a lot of resources that allowed me to find my path, set goals, get a job and how to advance myself better. There were a lot of professional development opportunities as well as networking opportunities. I always give RIT/NTID credit for aiding me on the journey of shaping who I am and how I’m able to contribute to the community. 

Share a fun fact about yourself.
I was a certified floral designer for two years. I don’t know where that came from, but it just happened and I was in high school. I chose an elective in high school and thought it was easy so I took it and I really enjoyed designing floral arrangements. I learned scientific names of plants and it was fun. My teacher at the time said, “Hey! Why don’t you join a Horticulture competition?” After that, I joined it as the lone Asian person and we came second place in the state! With that, they gave me a two-year certification to design floral arrangements. It was a part of the Future Farmer of America, a national student organization.