By Kristie Thorson, Communications Specialist
Ever since she was a little girl, Kieu My Phi knew she wanted to grow up and help other children. Her enthusiasm for advocacy, especially for the underserved, likely stemmed from her own experience living in Vietnam, without her family, during her early years.
“My parents and my older siblings came to America when I was one, but I was too young to make the move,” said Kieu My. “I was left with a caretaker until I was 5 and then my mom came back and filled out the paperwork so I could move to Minnesota with them.”
Kieu My grew up in Brooklyn Park and now attends St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul. The 20-year old is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy with a concentration in early childhood education, and a Master’s degree in Public Health with a focus on adverse childhood experiences.
As the newest Todd Otis Public Policy intern at Think Small, Kieu My plans to soak up every bit of knowledge she can from members of the policy team and others at the Capitol. The internship will give Kieu My the chance to learn firsthand about early learning policy in Minnesota. It was established to honor Todd Otis’s lifelong advocacy career and his work as a change-agent in early childhood.
“I saw the internship information and I thought this is perfect.” she said. “It’s exciting to have the things I’m most passionate about come together in one amazing opportunity.”
Kieu My says she hopes to work for a non-profit but she has yet to narrow down a specific career path. She’s definitely interested in the education side of policy and advocating for children. Her end goal is to do research, and maybe someday go back to school to get her Ph.D so she can become a professor. She’s also extremely interested in the “pipeline to prison system” in America and how it is targeting youth of color. She is disheartened that so many parents are serving jail time and not able to form a connection with their young children.
Kieu My thinks her personal experience of being separated from her family in those important early years still affects her relationship with her mom today. “I didn’t really bond with my mom the same way my two older siblings did. I often felt like the odd child out.” She says it pains her to turn on the news and see children being separated from their parents at the border.
Kieu My loves to read. Sometimes she focuses on research topics, other times she goes for a more inspirational genre.
“I’m a big reader,” she said. “I heard that Bill Gates reads a book every week so I thought I would give it a try.”
When Kieu My’s not working, studying, or reading, you’ll find her hanging out with her younger brother, Hieu. The two are close and enjoy fishing, hiking or spending time outdoors together.
Hieu is a junior at Robbinsdale Cooper High School in New Hope. “He plays a lot of sports so I’m always on the bleachers cheering him on,” said Kieu My.
Over the summer, Kieu My worked as a early childhood teacher at Ava Maria Academy, a private Catholic preschool in Maple Grove.
“It was incredible to see the kids grow and to see the impact you can have — even if I was only there for three months,” she said. “I can’t imagine the huge impact those who commit their whole careers to teaching have on young children.”
Kieu My also said it was frustrating to learn so many children can’t access high-quality care and education because because their parents can’t afford it or the only available programs are too far from home.
She now hopes to impact a child’s life in a different way than teaching… and that’s why she chose public policy.
“What I really love is being on the front line and saying this needs to change. It’s been working, but it can be better. I want to help make those changes.”