One obstacle was standing in her way: Whether or not she would be awarded the valuable scholarship she had applied for and very much needed to make her dream a reality.
The senior at St. Paul (Minn.) Harding High School vividly recalls the day she came home in the spring, saw the postal carrier in her neighborhood and found a big Gates Millennium Scholarship envelope in her house. She knew the envelope would determine her fate.
Yang was afraid at first to open it, fearing the worst. Earlier that day she learned that she didn't win a less prestigious scholarship. As a result, "I had lost all hope" in winning the national Gates Millennium award, she said.
When she opened the Gates envelope, she found a manila folder inside."I slowly lifted the flap and read 'Congratulations Paying Yang ! Welcome to the GMS family!' At that very moment, I cried my very first tears of joy," Yang said.
"I don't think I have ever wanted anything more in my entire life. I had so many different emotions pumping through me — crying, shaking, laughing — simply out of disbelief."
Yang is one of 1,000 students this year in the U.S. named Gates Millennium scholars. The goal of the awards is to promote academic excellence and to provide an opportunity for outstanding minority students with significant financial need to reach their potential by reducing financial barriers.
Established in 1999, the Gates Millennium Scholars Program is funded by a $1.6 billion grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The scholarships cover all costs of attending college, including room and board through graduation and, if the student chooses, the cost of attending graduate school.
For a Wisconsin or Minnesota resident the cost of attending UW-Stout in 2012-13 including tuition, fees, room and meals was just under $15,000 a year, meaning the Gates scholarship will be worth at least $60,000 to Yang.
She chose UW-Stout "because its community and environment best suit me" and because of the graphic design and interactive media program, which is part of the School of Art and Design.
"I have done a lot of research and found that UW-Stout has one of the best accredited graphic design programs in the Midwest," she said, adding that she already is looking beyond a bachelor's degree to a master's degree.
UW-Stout offers, along with four other undergraduate art majors, a Master of Fine Arts in Design.
"I want to show my relatives and my community that the arts are as important as literature, mathematics, science and social studies," Yang said.
Yang started a graphic design company, PY Production, as a sophomore and hopes to continue to run it during college, which begins with the first day of classes Thursday, Sept. 5, at UW-Stout.
Yang plans to participate in Stoutward Bound, a program for first-year ethnic minority students. They arrive on campus two weeks early to begin classes and take part in leadership development. Enrichment activities throughout the academic year also help them transition to college, according to Barb Miller, director of Multicultural Student Services.
For the last six years Gates Millennium scholars have a graduation rate of more than 86 percent, which is 38 percent higher than the national graduation rate for all students and comparable to the rate for students from high-income families.
Along with financial support, Gates Millennium scholars receive leadership development opportunities, mentoring and academic and social support.
Yang was one of 19 students from Minnesota to receive a Gates Millennium scholarship. Wisconsin had 10 scholars. The 1,000 winners this year are from 46 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories.