EMT reflects on journey to earn degree while balancing demands of two jobs

Dustin Vang stands with his ASU cap and gown on

ASU Online student and EMT Dustin Vang will graduate with his bachelor's degree in political science and a minor in sociology from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences this spring.


Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

This spring, Dustin Vang is graduating cum laude from Arizona State University, an achievement he accomplished while balancing the demands of working two jobs.

Vang works full time as an EMT in California, a pathway inspired by a program he joined in high school, as well as part time at Starbucks, a job he also started in high school but left when he decided to pursue EMT school. He said he was drawn back to Starbucks by the financial support and flexibility offered by the partnership with ASU Online through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.

“I wasn't eligible for financial aid, and that's kind of the American middle-class struggle right? You make too much for financial aid but not enough to actually afford your $40,000 degree. So it was really relieving to have that support from ASU and Starbucks,” Vang said. “The long nights and the long days, it was totally worth it at the end of it because I got the degree I wanted and was able to make it work.”

Vang is graduating with his bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in sociology from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He said he was attracted to the programs for the additional context they would provide to his career in health care, better equipping him to serve his community.

“I've always been interested in political science, but honestly with all the things going on in the world, I wanted a better understanding of what was really going on versus having other people tell me. I wanted to try to become more well-rounded and be able to form my own opinion on things,” he said.

One moment that stands out to Vang when reflecting on his time at ASU was when he was sent to work as an EMT on Inauguration Day.

“I was finishing school while I was sent out to Washington, D.C., to work the presidential inauguration,” he said. “I was like, ‘I'm finishing up my (political science) degree this year, how cool is it I get to be here?’”

Vang shared more about his experience as an online student and his plans for the future.

Question: How did the Starbucks College Achievement Plan and ASU financial support impact your experience?

Answer: At the beginning of the Starbucks program, which they just changed recently, you paid 40% upfront and then they covered 60%. So you were still responsible for $2,000 to $3,000, plus your books and fees and stuff as well. ASU offered me a grant from the school that lowered my fees each semester and that was just such a relief because sometimes having to pay that much upfront was challenging. I don't know if I would have been able to do it otherwise without having the financial support from both ASU and Starbucks. (The Starbucks College Achievement Plan reimburses students their upfront costs at the end of the semester.)

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

A: Beverly Carlsen-Landy taught my sociology of health and illness class. It was just so interesting to me to see the disparities in health care and quality of patient care in general, based off of people's socioeconomic status and social status in general. It was cool learning about that stuff, then working on a 911 ambulance and getting to see firsthand what I'm learning in school happening in real life too, and trying to see what we can do to make things better for people.

Q: What drew you to working as an EMT?

A: I got into it in high school when the fire department came to my school and said, “Hey, want to do this explorer program and learn about what it means to be a firefighter?” So I was doing that with our fire department for years, then the next step was to become an EMT. I went to the community college, got my EMT license and started doing that, then realized I really like working on an ambulance. I've stayed doing that and my career has grown so much.

Q: How did you balance the demands of school and working two jobs?

A: It was definitely a struggle; any free time I had, I was studying. I don't think there was a day where I did not do something school-related. I was working 12-hour shifts or longer on the ambulance and then Starbucks was seven and eight hour days. I would do at least one thing of schoolwork a day. It seems so worth it now; in the moment you're like, “Wow, this sucks.” But now it’s like, “I did it. I can do a lot.”

Q: As an online student, what did you do to feel connected to ASU and other students?

A: I followed Sun Devils Connect on Facebook. It was cool getting to connect with people and interact with them there. I think I had more fun talking to random people through social media than I did through the class discussion boards; finding people that I have a mutual interest with on social media was exciting.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I think the biggest advice I have for people is to reach out and ask questions. I think so many people are afraid of committing to one specific school or program that they become afraid to reach out. The advisers and registration folks and financial aid office are so helpful in getting you the resources that you need to actually make it happen.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: One of the big things I'm looking at doing is going to paramedic school because I want to work for the state EMS agency or even one of our local county EMS agencies, and have a big impact on the quality of care and delivering services to the people in that area. Having my bachelor's degree will definitely help get me there; the industry is evolving and I think I'm in a better place having my degree to be able to try to adapt with changes.

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