Born in a refugee camp, now impacting education—meet Raksmeymony Yin '14

Rex and his family

Education—it has a profound influence on all of us. We are products of our educational environments and experiences, which indefinitely shape who we are.

Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, as a result of the Cambodian genocide that was happening in the wake of the Vietnam War, Raksmeymony (Rex) Yin ’14 and his family came to America with the hope of a better life. Settling in North Philadelphia, Yin’s family quickly learned of the hardships that face immigrants in America.

“As a refugee family, we didn’t have much, but my parents believed there was a promise in their children,” said Yin. “My parents were confident that my siblings and I meant something to this world, and they wanted us to have the educational opportunities to achieve great things.”

It was with this outlook and perseverance that Yin arrived at Gettysburg, with the intention of earning a degree—but also learning about how he could use that degree to help others achieve in higher education.

In his first year Yin became devoted to the Gettysburg motto of "Do Great Work," involving himself in everything. He excelled in his studies, conducted educational research, studied abroad, was heavily involved in community outreach, and became an Immersion Trip leader—working to make a change for future Gettysburgians.

Rex with Pres. Riggs“When I heard 'Do Great Work,' from professors, my RAs, upper-class students—to me, it meant engaging in activities that led to creating a legacy and an impact,” said Yin. “Throughout my college career, that's really what I wanted to do, and I made sure that I engaged in activities that aligned with that philosophy.”

He decided to design his own major of study, focused on intercultural studies through education. It was through his First Year Seminar course, that Yin started to consider his personal educational opportunities and the cultural influences that affect education systems in the United States and around the world.

“A professor in the education department taught my First Year Seminar,” said Yin. “In that class, it was the first time that I'd ever reflected on my personal experience in education—reading about education systems around the world and reflecting on how we, as students, grew up in unique educational environments.”

Through this personal reflection, Yin was charged to conduct sociological and educational research on Cambodian Americans and other underserved populations.

As a product of the urban Philadelphia public school system, Yin wanted to understand how diverse, urban communities were affected by the education system and their upbringing. Beginning research in his sophomore year, carrying through senior year, Yin became an expert on the educational inadequacies affecting various types of communities.

“Self-identifying as a Cambodian American from Philadelphia, I wanted to examine the assimilation of Cambodian Americans in Philadelphia,” said Yin. “During the spring of my sophomore year, I discovered research that opened my eyes to the true challenges that Cambodian Americans are facing—I quickly realized that my socio-cultural identity shaped my passion for education and community development and I was motivated to learn more.”

“My individualized research study that I conducted in my senior year at Gettysburg was more specifically focused on second-generation Cambodian-American middle school students in Philadelphia and their academic pathways,” said Yin. “That experience was great for me to kind of tie together my entire college experience.”

Rex with students

Post graduation, Yin was looking for a position where he could take his extensive research on Cambodian American students, and enact social change. An opportunity with the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia (CAGP)—a social service agency that serves the Cambodian community through service, advocacy and cultural education—fit the bill.

“A few years ago, I was interviewing for a position at CAGP, and I mentioned to the Executive Director that I had written my senior thesis on Cambodian-Americans in Philadelphia,” said Yin. “After reading my senior thesis, she hired me—asking that I take the work I had done, and actually materialize the program I had designed for Cambodian students in Philadelphia.

“Having the opportunity to come back to the Philadelphia area, teach in the Cambodian community and learn about the experiences of these middle school students I was studying in college—it has made my Gettysburg education so applicable,” said Yin.

Rex at CommencementCurrently serving as the Youth Development Coordinator at CAGP, Yin provides direct service and administrative support to the out-of-school-time programs, oversees children and youth grants, and leads the middle and high school leadership development programs. With no plans to slow down any time soon, Yin works tirelessly, as he did at Gettysburg, to make educational opportunities available to students of underrepresented populations.

“I’m not striving to be good, I’m striving to be great,” said Yin. “And I'm still living the 'Do Great Work' philosophy every day—by engaging in pursuits towards providing high-quality educational experiences, that will leave a legacy and make an impact in the community.”