Rona Wang jokes that the five words that best describe her are “What is the WIFI password?” but in our view, better words would be brave and bold. For someone so young, Rona has already taken many leaps of faith that plenty of adults never do. Putting her first work of fanfiction onto the internet, for example. Or founding an online community for youth. Or delivering slam poetry on her Chinese-American heritage or queer identity in front of huge crowds. Or moving to New Zealand without knowing a single person! Whichever accomplishment you choose, Rona is a badass creator and youth advocate from any perspective.
Major: Computer Science, Comparative Media Studies
Expected Graduation Year: Spring 2021
How have your personal struggles and background pushed you to start the mentorship program for student writers with the Glass Kite Anthology and Find X?
As a low-income student growing up, I didn’t have access to private tutoring or writing courses, but I did have the library and Internet! I would be constantly reading as a child; I was totally that kid who stayed inside during recess to catch up on the latest Rick Riordan book. Soon, that fervent passion for reading bloomed into a love of writing (shout-out to Fanfiction.net for being the first real writing platform and community I had).
This propelled me to create Glass Kite Anthology’s summer writing mentorship program for middle and high school students in 2015. Having an online support system was so important for my writing, and I wanted to give that to other kids around the world. That first summer, one of my mentees was from India, and she told me that she was especially excited because there were few opportunities for teen writers there.
That summer, I also started a Tumblr called Find X to curate a motivational space for school. It was mostly supposed to be for myself, but after a few months, it began getting hundreds of hits daily, and I received messages inquiring how I started the GKA workshop and how others could create similar programs. Soon, I realized that I could develop Find X into an incubator for other teens to cultivate their own education initiatives. Now, we’ve reached thousands of people in dozens of countries.
Education inequality is a major issue in the U.S. and around the world. How do you hope to provide accessible education to all students through Find X, and what kind of impact do you wish to have on their lives?
I want to give students the chance to explore interests that aren’t often taught in schools. Our initiatives include hackathons, debate classes and more. There are so many life skills that most schools don’t adequately cover! Public speaking is essential. Don’t get me started on the number of people who go to college without learning how to cook a few basic meals. And in this day and age, knowing how to code is almost mandatory.
The best thing ever is when a kid says that our program inspired him or her to take a leap he or she didn’t have the confidence for before—whether that’s enrolling in an advanced class, pursuing a creative passion or even starting a new initiative.
How do you hope to expand Find X in the next couple of years?
Right now we’re working on outreach through the Northeastern U.S. We are investigating different methods to deliver high-impact, quality education—in the beginning, nearly all of our initiatives took place online, but now we are connecting to students in Canada and New Zealand through face-to-face interactions. One of our initiative leaders in Oregon is starting a teen entrepreneurship night market, and I’m quite excited about that. Ultimately, the goal is to give youth the resources they need to fulfill their own visions.
Who inspired you to begin writing, and how has it impacted your life?
My parents are immigrants from China, and in our home, sometimes fun will slide into fine because the short “u” sound doesn’t exist in Mandarin. Sometimes in public, my mother might refer to a woman as “he” because Chinese male/female pronouns are homophones. But I don’t see that as a detriment to my writing; in fact, I feel so blessed to be a speaker of this uniquely mixed language, this language that holds so much love and sacrifice.
In many ways, they inspired me to begin writing, because I saw how they were dismissed in America. Others didn’t understand the language they spoke, and it was my job to “translate”—to proofread emails, to talk to authority figures. So I began writing to give truth to the story of my lineage; Wikipedia has the facts, but somewhere along the way, the emotional truths of my heritage and all that it entails are lost in translation. By spinning fiction, I hope to give readers something honest.
How do you hope to expand the narratives of marginalized individuals through your writing?
When I was in high school, I began performing slam poetry and was eventually named a youth poet ambassador for the city of Portland. While I’ve been to countless slams and have performed at charity luncheons and festivals, my favorite performance was my first ever.
It was at my high school, and my poem was about the uncertainty I felt growing up as Chinese-American. Stylistically, it wasn’t my strongest showing—I had no experience, so I didn’t know where to place emphasis or how to carry my body confidently. But afterwards, several Chinese-American classmates came up to me and told me they could relate. That experience opened my eyes to how essential it is for mainstream media to include all voices, not just those who shout the loudest.
This isn’t always easy; I’ve faced employment issues for writing about my queerness. But it is always, always worth it.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement to date?
I took a gap year, moved to New Zealand—a country where I knew nobody—and learned how to adult! To me, that was more meaningful than any single academic or creative achievement because I learned how to be completely self-sufficient. During my time there, I worked full-time at an educational technology start-up, created Find X, and sold a book. Plus, I learned how to cook something other than instant ramen.
What are some of your top goals and priorities post-graduation?
I’d really like to work with educational technology and bring top-notch learning experiences to a global audience. My humanities interests will give me a people-focused perspective, and my MIT background will give me the technical tools to implement much-needed solutions.
Later this year, I have a short story collection coming out with Half Mystic Press, and I’d love to keep writing. I’m also interested in web design, and lately I’ve been experimenting with interactive narratives, like how the digital age has influenced our modes of storytelling, so I’d like to do something with that.
Of course, my overarching goal is to build strength within overlooked communities, whether that’s through alleviating educational inequality or by amplifying narratives.
How would you describe yourself in five words?
“What is the wifi password?”
Carissa Dunlap is a Her Campus News X Social Intern for Summer 2018. She is a current Publishing major and Journalism minor at Emerson College (Class of 2020). When she isn't perusing the YA bookshelf at the bookstore, she can be found watching dog videos on Facebook, at her favorite coffee shops, or relaxing on the beach. Follow her on Instagram @dunlapcarissa or Twitter @Caridunlap.