Outstanding Graduate Chris Ao turns tragic events into an exciting career path

HES Oustanding Graduate Chris Ao at graduation
HES Oustanding Graduate Chris Ao at graduation

Graduating this week, after a long journey towards graduation, is outstanding graduate Chris Ao. Chris Ao, and his brother Nick Ao, are Health and Exercise Science students who have persevered in their educational efforts and continued their march towards graduation, with their eyes on post-graduate degrees.  Their path to graduation, however, was not a linear one.

“Talk about GRIT, these two have the GRIT to be good people and work hard,” said Tami Boday, head advisor in the Health and Exercise Science department. “Life has thrown them challenges during their time at CSU and they always rise above that challenge and keep moving forward. They have hearts of gold and really during their time at CSU, they have both had to work and be students and navigate these with family. Really they are just all-around good people.”

Both of the Ao brothers’ made a significant impact during their time at HES, and their professors took notice. Dr. Brian Tracy believed them to be the two most engaged students he has had in his lab in years, and it is clear that their continued path through education will be driven by their passion and thirst for knowledge.

“Chris and Nick are very engaged, balanced, and responsible young men both inside and outside the classroom,” said Neha Lodha, professor in the Health and Exercise Science department.  “They have done exceptionally well in the Capstone class and distinguish themselves as individuals with laser-sharp focus and a clear path for future goals.”

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is happy to recognize Chris as one of our Outstanding Graduates of Health and Exercise Science for Fall of 2021. We asked all our graduates about their journey towards graduation, and the challenges and triumphs they faced along the way.

Where are you from and what brought you to CSU?

Chris Ao smilingI am originally from Fort Collins, CO. I am attending CSU, as I am from the town.

What obstacles have you overcome to get to graduation? How have you persevered through unforeseen circumstances? 

In 2014, my mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was required to be financially independent at this time, as she was the provider for the family; as such, I commenced a full-time job, around 30 hours a week. In addition to working, I also needed to support my mother and take her to chemo treatments and medical appointments. At the time, I decided to withdraw from CSU for the fall semester.

I recommenced my education at CSU in Spring 2015 and strived to complete an undergraduate education. I hit a roadblock during this time, as I was mauled in the face and neck by a german shepherd at work. The bite was close to my jugular and I had to go into the emergency critical care at the hospital and subsequently needed to take two weeks off work/school to recover.

The Ao twins as young boys
The Ao brothers as young boys

At the end of 2016, my mother was diagnosed with terminal Glioblastoma. At this time and throughout the first half of 2017, I once again needed to take time out to assist her to attend medical treatments and take care of her. She lost her battle in the Summer of 2017.

After losing my mother, I tried to push through and did not take time off to mourn her properly. This transpired to be a huge mistake and resulted in poor academic performance. I took the Fall semester of 2018 off and returned in Fall 2019.

How have your academic experiences here and your professors, mentors, and advisers helped you overcome these obstacles and/or be successful in your major?

Tami, my HES advisor, continually checked in with me, even when I was not attending CSU during my break from my studies. She encouraged me to come back and finish my degree.

The Ao twins as young toddlers
The Ao brothers as young toddlers

What activities have you been most involved in? For example, volunteering, service, internships, clubs, work experiences, etc.

I have been a small animal veterinary technician for 6 years for dogs and cats. I also work as a Preclinical Surgical Technician at the Translational Medicine Institute at CSU, working with sheep and goats.

What are some accomplishments that you are most proud of during your time at CSU?

I am most proud of discovering myself and what my future path should be. My brother, dad, mom, and my girlfriend are the driving factors that push me up my own Mt. Everest.

What will you miss most about CSU?

The Ao Brothers with Barry Braun at graduation
The Ao brothers with Barry Braun at graduation

I will miss the people with whom I have formed connections. I wish them the best in their journey, moving forward.

What are your plans after graduating?

I applied to Veterinary School and will be interviewing at several programs after finishing one more prerequisite. My overall goal is to specialize in Oncology and become a Veterinary Oncologist, due to my personal connection with cancer and my sense of fulfillment working with animals.

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences