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Recorded Panel Discussion 

About the Show

At Lowell High School, the top public high school in San Francisco, the seniors are stressed out. As they prepare for the emotionally draining college application process, students are keenly aware of the intense competition for the few open spots in their dream colleges. At Lowell—where cool kids are nerds, nearly everyone has an amazing talent, and most of the student body is Asian American—the things that usually make a person stand out can feel commonplace. With humor and heart, director Debbie Lum captures the reality of the American college application process and the intersection of class, race, and educational opportunity as young adults navigate a quintessential rite of passage.   

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Dawn Yang

Dawn Yang arrived in the United States in 1976 as an infant Hmong refugee. Dawn’s father was a captain and medic who assisted the U.S. during the secret wars in Southeast Asia. Her family was fortunate to be relocated to the U.S. to escape the persecution faced by Hmong people after the Vietnam War; however, Dawn experienced firsthand the multitude of barriers her refugee parents faced in a new country.  Dawn’s family struggled to adjust to a new language and culture. Dawn is the second oldest of 11 children and the first to graduate from college, obtaining a degree in Business Management from Alverno College in 1997.  

Drawing on her own family’s experience, Dawn developed a passion for advocating for underserved communities. As the owner of Alternative Family Services, LLC, the agency provides supportive services to individuals experiencing homelessness and/or living with disabilities, mental health, or AODA (alcohol and other drug abuse) issues. Dawn was selected as one of the recipient for the 2021 IMPRINT Award by Professional Dimensions, a leading professional women organization.  Dawn was awarded the 2021-2022 Hmong Woman of the Year Award by the Milwaukee Hmong Consortium, a prestigious award given out every year at the Milwaukee Hmong New Year for her community impact.

Dawn is committed to providing positive and valuable information to the underserved Hmong and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community spearheading the first over-the-air Hmong newscast in Southeastern Wisconsin. She is the Co-owner and General Manager of Nyob Zoo TV, LLC, (phonetic: nall zhong), with her husband. Nyob Zoo TV team recently was awarded the 2021 Excellence in Public Health Media Award for providing valuable COVID-19 health information to the Hmong and AAPI community during the pandemic.

Panel Members

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Lou Nakasako

Lou Nakasako worked as a camera assistant on both CRIP CAMP, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and HBO’s WE ARE THE DREAM: THE KIDS OF OAKLAND MLK ORATORICAL FEST. He was the assistant director on FREELAND, which premiered at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, and a co-editor on Michael Siv’s DAZE OF JUSTICE, which aired on PBS’s DocWorld program in 2019. His short narrative film, BROTHERS, which won UCLA's award for Best Undergraduate Screenplay, was screened in the prestigious UCLA Directors Spotlight as one of the program’s top nine films of the year, and went on to play at numerous film festivals, among them CAAMFest, Los Angeles Asian Pacific American Film Festival, and Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival. He has a B.A from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.

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Rachael Schmidt

Rachael Schmidt graduated from Lowell High School (‘2017). At Lowell, she was a member of the Shield and Scroll honor society and an editor-in-chief for the school newspaper “The Lowell.” In 2021, she graduated with honors from Brown University with a Bachelor of Sciences in biology. She is currently working as a neuroscience research associate at UCSF and hopes to pursue an MD-PhD.

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Michelle Vail

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) Counselor

Michelle Vail has been a proud MPS educator and school counselor for 25 years. She is a first-generation college herself which she believes helps her understand her student’s perspectives and needs. She listens to her student’s needs and wants before trying to help them, to make sure it is their plan and not hers.  She reminds students that it's okay if their path changes or detours- it doesn't make them a failure.  

Mrs. Vail graduated from MPS, and she understands the extra obstacles that our students face, and how to navigate around them.  When she is not at work she is enjoying her two son's sporting events or boating with her husband.


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Paw Taw

Paw came from a Thailand refugee camp. Her native language is Karen. Her family moved to

Milwaukee in search of better living and education opportunities. She graduated from South

Division high school and she is currently pursuing a marketing degree at UWM (University of

Wisconsin-Milwaukee). She is the oldest of her siblings and the first generation in her family to

go to college.  Paw is doing everything she can to be a good role model for the younger ones. Her goal is

to be financially stable and be able to help those in need. She wants to give back to Thailand’s

Refugee community.


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