Upward Bound Student Spotlight: Vilay Kith

Vilay Kith
Vilay Kith

Henry Sibley senior recognized as Dell Scholar

Vilay Kith, 18, a senior at Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, was recently recognized as a Dell Scholar, an honor that includes a $20,000 scholarship. Vilay is a TRIO Upward Bound student through a federally funded program at Dakota County Technical College.

“Honestly, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be a Dell Scholar,” Vilay said. “Completing the application was a long process, but I learned a lot about myself writing the essays.”

Vilay was born in Kampot, Cambodia, a city of 50,000 residents on the Praek Tuek Chhu River near the Elephant Mountains and just off the Gulf of Thailand. She lived with her maternal grandmother until she moved to Minnesota to be with her father at the age of 11.

Graduating from Henry Sibley this May, Vilay is active in her high school’s LIVEGREEN Environmental Club, Page Warriors, a book club, and Multicultural Club. She plans to enroll at Augsburg University next fall. Her short-term goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree. She is undecided about her major, but is leaning toward biochemistry.

“My long-range academic plan is to get my master’s degree and then my PhD,” Vilay said, noting that her career plans are centered on healthcare, most likely pharmaceutical/disease research.

Vilay Kith has never failed to impress upon me her willingness to do whatever it takes to be successful. Vilay has endured numerous obstacles that most teenagers would find very difficult to overcome. However, she has adapted to those challenges, and has advocated for herself, and her father since moving to America as a young girl.
Vilay’s intent is to give back to those who may also be faced with hardship by becoming a medical professional and delivering health care in countries like Cambodia, which may not have the resources to reach those who can’t afford it.
I know all of us at Upward Bound are very proud of her efforts and what she gave to our program.
Tony Harsh, TRIO Upward Bound Advisor
Dakota County Technical College

More about Vilay…

Vilay has a Cambodian and Chinese heritage. Her father, Sokun, works in the manufacturing sector in Minnesota; her mother, Meun, owns a coffee shop in Kampot. Vilay is the youngest child and only girl in her family.

One of her brothers, Sengkieng, 21, is a graduate of the DCTC Civil Engineering Technology program. Another brother, Phinith, 20, is studying computer science at Normandale Community College.

Vilay works while going to school as an associate at T.J. Maxx in Eagan, Minnesota. In her free time, she enjoys volleyball and playing tennis with Sengkieng. Vilay resides in Eagan.

About Dell Scholars ¹

Dell Scholars is a scholarship and college-completion program that nurtures and empowers students on their path to a college degree. Since starting the program in 2004, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has supported more than 4,800 scholars, including more than 2,000 college graduates. Nationally, only 20 percent of students like our Dell Scholars graduate from college within six years, but our scholars are changing that reality by graduating with a bachelor’s degree at 80 percent in six years.

Our GPA requirement for the Dell Scholars program is Grit, Potential, and Ambition. Most Dell Scholars are first-generation college students who have demonstrated grit by overcoming personal challenges in their lives related to their families, schools or communities. They demonstrate great potential by participating in college readiness programs and seeking out advanced coursework. They demonstrate ambition by preparing themselves and planning for their dream of graduating with a college degree.

Dell Scholars offers personalized, multifaceted support to our students.

It begins the day they’re accepted into the program, and our support is constant until they leave campus with a degree in hand. More than Dollars for Scholars: The Impact of Dell Scholars on College Access, Persistence, and Degree Attainment (Page, Castleman, Sahadewo, 2016) finds that Dell Scholars are 25 percent more likely to earn their bachelor’s degrees within four to six years of high school graduation compared to students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

All Dell Scholars receive:

  • A $20,000 scholarship available for at a least six years to lessen loans and debt.
  • Ongoing support for the emotional, financial, and life challenges that may prevent them from completing college.
  • A Scholars Resource Network that connects students with resources to deal with stress, debt, managing child care, and life circumstances.
  • A laptop, textbook credits, tutoring, and other supports.
  • Webcasts and communication on timely topics that students need to know about during their college journey.
Learn more…

Vilay Kith Q & A

Vilay Kith

Vilay Kith

What do you like best about Upward Bound?
I like the people in Upward bound. They are always welcoming and are so friendly. I like how Upward Bound is always there when you need help. Whether it’s family or school, they are there to listen and to talk. My advisors are good listeners.

How has Upward Bound prepared you for college?
Before I joined Upward Bound, I didn’t really know much about college. After joining, I became motivated to go to college and earn my bachelor’s degree. Upward Bound has prepared me to achieve my college goals. My advisors helped me choose the right college. They also showed me what to expect in my life at college. Upward Bound opened my eyes. I now have a purpose: I want to earn my PhD.

Three words that describe you as an Upward Bound student:

What advice would you give students thinking about enrolling in Upward Bound?
Ask for help if you need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If the advisors are busy, ask one of the upperclassmen or your friends for help.

What person has influenced you the most in life?
My dad has influenced me the most. He helped me realize that school is good for me.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
I see myself with my PhD and working in a research laboratory.

About TRIO Upward Bound

Upward Bound is part of the family of Federal TRIO programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education. TRIO programs ensure equal educational opportunities for all students by providing skills and information needed to overcome class, social and cultural barriers to higher education.

Upward Bound helps students succeed academically by giving them the tools they need to first graduate from high school before enrolling in and graduating from college. Upward Bound participants have “college potential,” but are often unaware of the academic and career options beyond high school.


  • A motivational program based on academics, Upward Bound assists high school students with graduation requirements while preparing them for enrollment in and eventual completion of postsecondary education.
  • Funded by the U.S. Department of Education and sponsored by Dakota County Technical College, Upward Bound serves 50 students in grades 9–12 from Henry Sibley and South St. Paul high schools, and 60 students from Burnsville High School.
  • All qualified students are encouraged to apply.
    • Our policy obliges us to accept students who best conform to the program’s federal guidelines.
    • Applications are available through the Guidance Offices.
    • We will accept students who best conform to the program’s federal income guidelines, first-generation in the family to attend college, and potential for success in a college program of study.


  • Academic tutoring
  • Personal enrichment workshops
  • Stipend (money) during the academic year and summer months based on attendance and academic performance
  • One-on-one mentoring with an academic/career advisor
  • After-school program sessions twice a week
  • Six-week summer program at DCTC with math, science, English, foreign language, computer skills and study skills classes
  • Assistance with college entrance requirements
  • Parent/guardian support and assistance in matters affecting the student’s educational progress
  • Fun cultural, social and career-oriented field trips
  • Access to computer-based career and postsecondary educational information
  • Financial aid and scholarship information and assistance
  • Opportunities to meet many new friends who share the goal of a college education
Learn more…

Vilay Kith 12 Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Tennis
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Italy
  3. The most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Going to Puerto Rico on a disaster relief trip with Upward Bound
  4. First thing you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: I would first pay off all my family’s debt; then I would buy a house and pay for all my schooling, even graduate school. Then with the rest of the money, I would give some to my mom and dad. Then I would leave some for traveling to Italy; I would also establish a research institute in Cambodia.
  5. Favorite TV show you’re watching now: Lucifer
  6. Best movie you’ve seen lately: I love movies about the Mummy; I love the idea of discovering ancient things.
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in life: Finish graduate school and get my master’s degree and PhD and then my dream job.
  8. Your national bird if you could have one: Phoenix
  9. Dream occupation: Science researcher/doctor
  10. Person you would most like to meet: Selena Gomez or Thomas Edison
  11. Skill you would most like to learn and master: The ability to persuade other people
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Climate change

Vilay Kith

Dell Scholar Application: Personal Essay

My name is Vilay Kith and I moved to the United States from Cambodia during my fifth-grade year. When I moved here, I did not speak any English and I had to learn how to read and write in English. This was a very difficult time for me because I had never experienced the problem of having to learn a new language. I felt scared, but also excited at the same time.

However, I am so proud of myself because next year I will be graduating high school, but I will never forget the journey I took to get here. I still remember my first day in middle school. At that time, I did not know where to go and I did not have any friends to show me the way, but everybody helped me out.

Read more…

Learn more about TRIO Upward Bound at DCTC by contacting:

Caitlin Siefkes
Director of TRIO/Upward Bound
Dakota County Technical College

¹ Courtesy of Dell Scholars