If the University created a map of its various people and interests, Venora Hung would be standing in front of it, trying to connect all the dots.
Hung, a second-year University law student elected to the Board of Regents last May, is the youngest on the board as well as the only student. She said she thrives on being the link between people.
“That’s what I’m passionate about in life,” said Hung. “To be the connector, to be the person that brings two people together and says, ‘You guys can really work and synergize.’ “
Hung has learned to make connections from a fledgling age. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she grew up in Monterey Park, Calif. During middle school, she and her family moved to Eau Claire, Wisc. to help run her uncle’s Chinese restaurant.
Hung, who graduated from the Carlson School of Management in 2002 as a triple business major, said she would absorb high school classes and apply lessons to her family’s business.
“I helped my parents with a marketing ad in the local Yellow Pages so that people would notice them before other restaurants,” she said.
Although Hung credited proximity to family and the Minneapolis cultural scene for influencing her college decision, perhaps she was ultimately swayed by a local restaurant.
“If (my parents) were craving Chinese food on a Thursday night, we would drive all the way to Village Wok,” she said.
“I would see the campus,” she said. “It was the perfect place to be.”
Prior to college, Hung said she never participated in student government, adding that her family wasn’t politically involved.
Hung, who worked as a community adviser for three years, said she didn’t get involved until later in her undergraduate years, when someone mentioned an open spot as a student representative to the Board of Regents.
“I’d done so many other things with students and with the community,” she said. “It just seemed natural for me to take that route.”
Hung said she was inspired by her experience as a CA, which exposed her to student concerns and allowed her to connect students with University resources.
“If you feel that something can be done better, then go do something about it,” she said.
Hung served as one of seven student representatives from 2000 to 2002.
Amelious Whyte, chief of staff in the Office for Student Affairs, served as the assistant to the executive director of the Board of Regents during that time.
“I just remember her being very diligent,” he said. “Wanting to make sure she did a good job.”
She tried to engage people from other student groups by attending their meetings, he added.
Hung took the Law School Admissions Test while working on her undergraduate degree but said she wanted to tackle the working world before graduate school. She said being a student representative exposed her to regents from a range of backgrounds.
After graduating, Hung worked for Cargill in England for six months before returning to the area, working for four years in accounting and investment operations at Cargill and CarVal Investors.
Hung started law school at the University last fall and applied for a spot on the Board of Regents later that year.
The highly criticized selection process that followed saw the election of Hung and three other regents, as people claimed it was too partisan a process for a non-political body.
Hung was elected as the 5th Congressional District regent, rather than the student-at-large regent position, which went to Maureen Cisneros, who was a student at that time.
“At the end of the day, I think it was so important that we went through all of that,” she said. “I realized how many people cared so much about the University.”
Patricia Simmons, chairwoman of the board, said she appreciates Hung’s recent experiences as a working professional and as a student involved in the University’s governing body.
“She’s found a very nice balance in listening to people who have been there longer and chiming in very appropriately in the discussion of issues.”
Ben McKibben, a student representative who serves on the Faculty, Staff and Student Affairs Committee with Hung, said student representatives can’t vote on the board but Hung is capable of channeling student experiences when appropriate.
“She presents a much needed perspective as far as student issues,” he said.
Whyte said Hung uses her experience to her advantage.
“She may have a deeper understanding of how the board operates,” he said. “People respect her experience that she brings.”
Hung continues to use her experience to connect people.
As the co-chairwoman of the student-attorney mentor program for the Minnesota Women’s Lawyers association, she was recently able to match the group with one of her mentors from Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly LLP, a local law firm, to host a reception.
Hung, who has an interest in wine law, said her goal is to practice business law or business litigation.
“Maybe I’ll go back and get my M.B.A.,” she said.
Hung, whose term ends in 2013, said she hopes she’s starting a University tradition for her family. She said she helped persuade her younger brother, who’s currently in pharmacy school, to attend the University.
“My mom and dad didn’t go to college,” she said. “When I have kids, I want to say, ‘I’m a Gopher, you can be a Gopher, too.’ “