Mai Neng Yang was discouraged. Married with three children at the time, she woke up one day after a few hours of sleep and concluded she didn’t have the mental energy to continue as a full-time Lakeland College student.
“I had one of those moments,” she recalls now, seven years later, while sitting in her clean, sun-lit office at Sargento Foods. “I felt like I just couldn’t go to school while trying to be ‘Super Mom’ as well as a great wife, daughter and daughter-in-law. I was ready to give up. But Greg wouldn’t let me.”
Greg Smith, Lakeland’s associate professor of biology, met with Yang and convinced her to continue her educational journey. She listened, and graduated with a biology degree in 2009. Recently, the Sargento food technologist was promoted to production supervisor/MFG project coordinator, after previously serving as a quality assurance technician at the company known nationally for its high-quality natural cheeses and employee satisfaction. Yang says the close-knit atmosphere and overall culture at Sargento remind her of Lakeland’s, and she says, “I’m a proud Sargento employee and a proud Lakeland alumna.”
Looking back on those tougher times, when she was ready to withdraw from Lakeland, Yang says, “Greg helped dig me out of that hole. He believed in me. I felt guilty, like I was often making excuses when my kids were sick and I just couldn’t be there, but he never judged me and always worked with me. All of the professors at Lakeland were like that.”
Before transferring to Lakeland, the Sheboygan South High School graduate got married and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with dreams of someday becoming a pediatrician. After having her first child, she realized the logistics of commuting to Milwaukee were difficult. She also didn’t like how big and impersonal UWM was.
So, Yang seamlessly transferred her credits to Lakeland, where she met Smith and the other natural sciences faculty. She had two more children while enrolled at Lakeland (she and her husband now have five) and deeply appreciated the flexibility she was afforded as her family grew.
“It was an outstanding experience,” she says of her time at Lakeland. “Greg was my advisor, too, and a wonderful mentor. Everyone there really worked with me so I could achieve that life-school balance. There was much support. Everyone at Lakeland is very concerned about you as a person. They truly care.”