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Once abandoned BYU finance grad “pays it forward”

Born in a Thailand refugee camp and raised in Cambodia by her sister, Channika “Nika” Noun never expected to complete any kind of education. Now, she prepares to graduate from the Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business in finance, with an emphasis in corporate finance.

Noun’s parents divorced when she was a young child. Her mother left for the United States to find a job, and her father abandoned Noun and her siblings in Cambodia. Noun’s older sister, Chan, gave up a scholarship to begin working and provide for Nika and their younger brother.

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“School was always really hard for me,” Noun said. “I was bullied a lot, and I had a hard time concentrating in school because of family issues. I dropped out multiple times and chose to work to help support my family.”

During this time, Chan joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and would often take Noun and her brother along to church meetings. Eventually, Noun was baptized and decided to serve a mission. “Chan had sacrificed everything to take care of us, and this was one of the best ways I could think of to repay her. She had always wanted to serve a mission and never got to, so I decided to go in her place.”

Noun served in the Washington Tacoma Mission, Cambodian speaking. About six months before returning home, people started telling her she should go to college at the end of her mission. “I knew that I had struggled so much in high school and could make money without going to college, so I didn’t see the point in it.”

But as Noun recalled the people who had supported her on her mission and her “adopted grandparents” who helped her and her siblings get on their feet in Cambodia, she knew getting a college education would help her continue the pattern of supporting those around her. Giving to others has been one of Noun’s trademarks throughout her time at BYU.

“Nika has proven to be a beacon of positivity and encouragement to her fellow students,” said Colby Wright, a finance professor in the Marriott School of Business. “Her infectious optimism and positivity have served as a therapeutic balm for many of her classmates. Further, the odds she has overcome and the obstacles she has surmounted to come to BYU, graduate from our major and land a job with Dell are nothing short of inspiring. If our students ever wonder whether they have the mettle to make it in this program or this industry, they look to Nika as a model.”

Noun’s advice to students looking to major in a business-related field would be to get connected with all of the faculty members of the major you are interested in, talk with people in the field you’re interested in and start finding internships. “I’ve learned that my skills and talents are unique and that others need my unique skills and talents. It’s easy to feel intimidated, but everyone has value. There is something unique about you that others don’t have, so learn how to leverage it.”

After graduation, Noun will be returning to Dell Technologies, where she interned as a financial analyst.

She plans to participate in Dell’s rotational program for 2 years and improve the lives of those around her.

“I hope I learn more about myself and what I’m passionate about. I want to do a lot more for Cambodia. My heart and soul are reaching out to help more people, especially kids who struggle like I did. Not many people get the love and support that I was lucky to get.”

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