Mai-Ly Duong has been singing and dancing since she was a child, was the leading actress in a recently released movie filmed in Tucson and Los Angeles.
Despite her long-standing career in performance, the University of Arizona graduating senior says her professional interests and greatest concerns are in the health care of historically underserved populations, the Asian American community in particular.
To explain, Duong speaks of her father, who was diagnosed with Hepatitis B and passed away in 1995. She also talks about a close friend who, at the age of 28, is living with the viral disease, which can cause cirrhosis, liver failure, cancer of the liver and other complications that may lead to death.
"Hepatitis is a silent killer. The issue is very, very close to my heart," said Duong, an Honors College student and psychology major who studied chemistry and aspires to become a dentist.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that Hepatitis B is a "high prevalence health issue" for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Also, numerous studies have shown that a disproportionate number of people in the Asian American community have the infection and that the community generally has little access to crucial information about the infection.
Also, an article published in an April edition of the Journal of the National Center Institute reported that "iver cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among Asian American men," but is not a top 10 cause of death among white men in the United States.
Concerned about such issues drove Duong to organize what turned out to be one of the few walks in the nation dedicated to raising funds for liver cancer research and to bringing attention to hepatitis in the Asian American community.
Duong coordinated the "Hepatitis Will Unite Us" walk that was held at the UA in April. As president of the Vietnamese Student Association for the second year, she got her members involved and, all told, the group raised $1,000 for the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University.
Duong, who has spina bifida, has also earned the Kathryn Anne Governal Perseverance Award, which is granted to students who are successful despite great challenges.
She plans to help others who are dealing with tremendous challenges, especially those who do not have dental insurance and others who are not fluent in English.
"When my wisdom teeth were coming in, I didnï¿½t want to tell my mother because I knew it (the extraction) would be expensive," Duong said, adding that her condition became so painful that she couldn't eat.
Eventually her mother took her to a dentist and explained their financial situation. The dentist helped Duong at no cost, she said. "That was inspiration for me. I want to be able to have that kind of control so I can help my patients."
She will begin her graduate studies this fall A.T. Still University in Mesa, Ariz. and intends to work with historically underrepresented and underserved groups, the Vietnamese community in particular. She is also learning Spanish and American Sign Language.
"I want to help people to understand that oral health is very much linked to the rest of their health,"she said. "It's all interrelated."
Stephanie A. Fryberg, a UA assistant professor of psychology, said Duong "would have been an oustanding Ph.D. candidate and I would have loved to have seen her go into social psychology."
Duong worked as a research assistant for Fryberg's Culture Collaboratory, which researches education and health discrepancies among low-income populations or people of color.
The laboratory also encourages its student researchers to pursue graduate schools, research positions and jobs as faculty members.
Fryberg, who also advised Duong in her Honors College work, said "she is unselfish in her approach of being part of a research team."
In the lab, Duong studies emotional responses and how a person's ethnicity may influence the way they interact with others and feel about themselves. Her study has focused primarily on Asian Americans, American Indians and white students.
Outside of the lab, Duong has worked on campus as a senior multimedia consultant and lead trainer for the UAï¿½s Office of Student Computing Resources. Proficient in about 30 different programs and applications, Duong helps students edit videos and design Web pages.
And she will continue her work as a performance artist. This summer, Duong said she will be part of the filming of two Lionsgate films.
"She is one of those people who is invoved in many different things but manages to do it superbly," Fryberg said. "She has a tremendous character and personality."