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‘Home was ASU’: Graduate returns to school after raising four Sun Devils

A woman in a cap and gown poses on Palm Walk with her family
May 08, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Chantal VanKlompenberg has lived a life supporting and caring for Sun Devils. Her five siblings are Sun Devil alumni, as are her four children. And now, decades after graduating from McClintock High School, VanKlompenberg is joining the Sun Devil club herself.

“I was done raising kids and I said, ‘It's time for Mama to return home, and home was ASU,’” VanKlompenberg said.

VanKlompenberg immigrated with her family to the United States from Vietnam when she was 7 years old. Her father had completed school through the third grade, while her mother had no formal education. As the eldest of her siblings, she helped to raise her younger brothers and sisters a couple of miles from Arizona State University’s Tempe campus and said it was always her parents' dream for their children to attend the university.

However, soon after graduating from high school, she had to place that dream on hold after meeting her husband and starting a family.

“The focus of my life was my children,” said VanKlompenberg. “I sacrificed and raised my four beautiful children.”

As her children grew older and began graduating from ASU themselves, VanKlompenberg said she was inspired to return to campus.

“My last one, she's 21 and her passion for school and everything made me want to go back too,” she said.

VanKlompenberg had some community college credits and was working at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in the career services department when she decided to complete her core courses and transfer to ASU.

This May, VanKlompenberg will graduate with her bachelor’s degree from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as with a certificate in leadership and ethics. Her motivation to pursue her degree in communication stemmed from her work at Chandler-Gilbert.

“I love to communicate; I’m a people person. I love to be out there and in front of people and just communicate and connect, and so it was just the perfect major for me,” she said.

For the last two years, VanKlompenberg advertised her academic journey as “it’s my turn, it’s my time, on my terms” to her team of supporters.

And now, as she reviews the straight A’s on her transcript, she said she’s proud that she was able to finish so strong.

“I'm gonna be honest, I never realized that I could be that smart or that I can be that educated, that I can study, that I can learn,” she said. “Who would have thought that? I’m very happy with myself.”

VanKlompenberg answered some questions about her time at ASU and her family’s connection to the university.

Question: What did it mean to your parents for all of your siblings to graduate from ASU?

Answer: Mom and Dad brought us here for freedom because they both never finished school. Coming here, all they wanted us to do was go to work and just go to school and get a life out of it. I'm the last and the oldest finishing college. They're so proud that all six of their kids have families and work hard and have their degrees. Their dream was ASU, and we all accomplished that mission, that lifetime goal for them.

Q: What has been your best memory at ASU?

A: I did a storytelling event through Ignite@ASU. Even though I love talking to people, it was still scary telling 200, 300 people your personal story for the first time, from the time you left the country to the time you're an older mom, going back to school. It was an accomplishment. Ignite is one of the best programs; the experience makes you a whole different person.

Q: Were you involved in any clubs/organizations? Which ones? How did they shape your experience? 

A: I volunteered with Dr. Neal Lester’s Project Humanities homeless outreach for the last two years. I kind of knew him toward the end of my year at Chandler-Gilbert. I get involved with that every other Saturday, and on Fridays I help sort donations at the warehouse. I'm very involved in my city, Chandler, with nonprofits that I volunteer at and help run, and pouring myself into school.

Q: What skills and/or what experiences have you gained from your time in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that will help you achieve your future goals in life?

A: I took some stress management classes, and that helped me to meditate, to be grateful and have gratitude and patience. I also think I've become a better writer; I used to be so afraid to write.

As of April 30, I have been in this country for 45 years. Last year was my first year going back to Vietnam and visiting my homeland. While I was at ASU, I took two semesters of Vietnamese language. I speak it fluently, but could only kind of read it. The courses helped me so much when I went back to Vietnam last year because I was able to relearn reading and writing the language. It's funny when you speak it fluently, people would say, “Why can't you read and write?” I never had the time to learn that; I just had to speak Vietnamese to my mom and dad.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I love Emilee Shearer, because of my gender class. I'm such an open person and I accept everything, but I'm still a gullible, naive mom too because there's so much to learn out there about gender and the definition and the terms that I've never known. She was so patient with me and just so kind and had empathy for an adult returning back to school and not understanding. She took the time and would get back with me promptly, and I'm very thankful for that. To be a professor like that — passionate about what she's teaching and then still have time to reach back out to her student within minutes — that's like, wow, she's not there just for the paycheck.

Q: What advice would you give to others considering returning to school?

A: So many people from young to old are afraid to take that first step. I've known so many young kids who are working full time just to make a living, pay rent and everything, but they want to go back to school and I said, it doesn't hurt to ask. Pick up that phone or see that adviser; they will be able to map it out for you. That's what I did –– I talked to an adviser, I said, “I have this many credits. Where can I be? Where do I start? What do I need to finish it?” When they laid all that information out, I knew I could do it. So that's what I would recommend: Take that first step; go see an adviser, go see somebody that works at the university or college so they can advise you and help.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I was thinking about furthering my education and getting a master's in higher education. I've also always wanted to be an ESL teacher. I want to be around students; I want to help people. That's what I want to do right now. I'm going to take a break after the last two weeks of studying and just relax. I'm thinking about cleaning the house, and after this week hopefully we can just take off on a road trip and be free before my next mission.

Top photo: Chantal VanKlompenberg, her parents and siblings — all Sun Devil alumni — pose on Palm Walk. Photo by Milton Yang Photography

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