Some students come to Cal Poly Pomona to get a learn-by-doing education. Joy Chang got that experience without setting a foot into a classroom.
When Chang was 18, her parents began preparing for divorce. Wanting her mother to be fully prepared, but not wanting the financial burden of hiring a lawyer, Chang did the only thing she could think to do — she figured out the laws herself.
“I didn’t have a car at the time, so I was taking two-hour trips on the bus and train to use the Los Angeles Law Library,” she says. “It was definitely a crazy time.”
Prior to the divorce, Chang had intended to pursue a career in teaching. A first-generation immigrant, she arrived in the United States at age 8 without knowing a word of English. It gave her a fresh perspective on the challenges many students struggle with in the classroom.
“I know the importance of a good education,” she says.
But getting a taste of the law galvanized her, and plans changed. She had seen firsthand how difficult the legal system is to navigate for those without the means. Family law is even more complicated because of the emotional turmoil.
“I think my family went through all that so I can relate,” she says. “I became a stronger person because of it.”
When it came time to choose a college, she set her sights on Cal Poly Pomona. Upperclassmen at her high school had encouraged her to consider the university. Faculty members she met on a tour seemed friendly and supportive, and she loved the beauty of the campus.
Her affection for Cal Poly Pomona only grew once she arrived. She found her peers to be “excited, passionate and dedicated,” her professors were always there to lend a helping hand or listen when she was having a problem, and she was enchanted by the vibrant mix of people who call the campus home.
“I love the fact that it’s very diverse,” she says. “I get to talk to people from all different nationalities and backgrounds.”
She threw herself headlong into her academic career, opting for a double major in finance, real estate and law, and philosophy — philosophy “because it helps you think critically.”
She joined the Kellogg Honors College and the Alpha Lambda Delta honors society, Golden Key International, the Philosophy Club and Phi Sigma Tau Omicron, a philosophy honors society. She was named a President’s Council Scholar in 2013, 2014 McPhee scholar for the College of Business Administration and received the D. Scott Mercer Scholarship. She also joined the College Reading Schools Program, was an associate justice for Associated Students Inc., and worked with the ASI LobbyCorps committee.
Philosophy Professor David Adams, who has known Chang since 2009 and serves as her advisor in the philosophy department, describes her as “keenly intelligent,” “dogged” and “very disciplined.”
“What I admire about Joy is that she was absolutely undeterred by the bumps in the road. She just kept right on going. That’s a neat thing to see,” he says.
Adams says Chang is unusual in that she’s never been reluctant to ask for help or try out new experiences.
“She goes out of her way to seek help and advice from people at every turn. There’s a self confidence that goes along with that — to put yourself out there like that.”
In her junior year, she joined the Americorps JusticeCorps program, volunteering more than 300 hours to work with low-income individuals in family court. Now in her in her final year as a Cal Poly Pomona student, Chang has penned a senior thesis on the ethics of physician-assisted suicide and worked as a clinical ethicist at Pomona Valley Hospital.
“You don’t realize how fortunate you are until you work with these litigants,” she says, recalling a child support case she assisted with in which the mother was younger than her.
“She was still just a kid.”
“You have to learn to put your emotions aside and focus on them — this is about them,” she says.
Now on the cusp of graduation, Chang is preparing for law school. After that, she hopes to work for a nonprofit that offers legal representation to low-income and underserved families or even start a nonprofit of her own.
“I’m keeping my mind open to possibilities,” she says.
Adams has no doubt in his mind that she’ll succeed.
“To work real change at the grassroots level with people who don’t have much in the way of means, that’s unusual and very commendable,” he says. “And I’m sure she’ll do it.”