Elise Dang

Elise Dang

Teen graduates with two degrees from Cal State LA

She will pursue a master’s degree in sociology at CSU Fullerton in the fall.



Elise Dang

By Margie Low | Cal State LA News Service


While most teens are focused on finishing high school, 17-year-old Elise Dang graduated from Cal State LA with dual bachelor’s degrees.

The Rosemead resident is the youngest member of the university’s Class of 2018 and became the first in her family to graduate from college when she walked across the Commencement stage in May. Dang has earned a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and a Bachelor of Arts in Asian and Asian American Studies.

“I really enjoyed my time here at Cal State LA, which offered me an enriching and engaging experience and helped give me a jump-start on my academic journey,” Dang says.

Dang plans to begin graduate school in sociology at California State University, Fullerton in the fall. Her ultimate goal is to earn a Ph.D. and pursue a career in academia or public policy. She hopes to one day develop policies to improve the environment and public health.

At only 13 years old, Dang enrolled at Cal State LA through the Early Entrance Program, often referred to as EEP. The program, administered by the university’s Honors College, accepts highly gifted students as young as 11 years old.

A Dean’s List student, Dang is a member of the Golden Key and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies at Cal State LA. She has been active with the EEP Club and the Associated Students, Inc., serving as an undergraduate academic senator.

Described by her peers as a “people person,” Dang was naturally drawn to the field of anthropology, where she studied migrant and refugee communities. She was involved with the university’s Anthropology Media Laboratory and conducted a class research project on community identity with artists in Long Beach.

Dang also coauthored a paper on social justice issues in Asian and Asian American communities. The article has been accepted for publication in the AAPI Nexus Journal, a national journal that focuses on policies, practices and community research benefitting Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

As an intern for the Chinese American Oral History Project at Cal State LA, Dang helped collect oral histories of Chinese Americans from Chinatown in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.

But it was in a service-learning food justice class where Dang found the inspiration for her future career plans. “Body, Health and Food Justice in API Communities,” with Professor Juily Phun, allowed Dang and fellow students to build community gardens in local schools. The course aims to teach students in the community to grow their own food and learn how sustainable agriculture impacts the environment and public health.

Dang was instrumental in securing more than $12,000 in grant funding from student organizations to contribute to building a new community garden in the Anna Bing Arnold Children’s Center at Cal State LA. The garden, which is expected to bloom next spring, was completed just in time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the center on April 12.

The once dirt-covered hillside near the center is now a 40-by-120-foot garden, peppered with California native, drought-tolerant plants, edible species like black currants and grapes, produce and mini fruit trees.

“The garden serves as a learning space. The children can learn to care for the garden and to eat healthier food, like fruits and vegetables,” Dang says. “Also, we have a replica of the Arroyo Seco in the middle of the garden to reflect the California landscape.”

Creating the community garden helped bridge Dang’s interest in anthropology with her concern about food insecurity issues on campus and in the community. Through her graduate studies, Dang plans to explore Asian refugee communities and their reliance on humanitarian and food aid from a policy perspective.