Outstanding Graduate Nick Ao finds his own path after persevering through tragedy

HES Oustanding Graduate Nick Ao at graduation
HES Oustanding Graduate Nick Ao at graduation

Graduating this week, after a long journey towards graduation, is outstanding graduate Nick Ao. Nick Ao, and his brother Chris 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 Nick 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.

Nick Ao poses for the camera
Nick Ao poses for the camera

Where are you from and what brought you to CSU?

I am a native Coloradoan. I originally came to CSU to pursue a premedical degree to become a doctor.

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

A photo of the Ao's mother
The Ao’s mother

My mom was diagnosed with Glioblastoma in 2016 and was given only a few months. During that time, I took time out of CSU to work and help pay bills as well as spend as much time with my mother as I could. My family and I were lucky enough to enjoy an amazing year with her. During that time, I really thought I wanted to become a healthcare provider since I saw how well they took care of my mother. She lost her fight in July of 2017.

After she passed away, I fell into depression. I came back to CSU with the intent to finish college, but was failing my classes and did not do well at all. I realized that I needed time off to heal, and I took a whole year off of school. I came back to school and was finishing my classes and prerequisites to graduate and apply to physician assistant programs.

A photo of the Ao's mother and father
The Ao’s mother and father

During the summer of my last year, I realized that there are so many other ways that I can help people, not just in healthcare. My sister suggested that I think about software engineering, and I am here currently finishing up my degree in HES sports medicine now and will pursue that path afterward. I want to combine what I have learned in this department with what I will learn in the future to create health-centered applications for people to use.

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

My advisor Tami Boday has been stellar in overcoming these obstacles. She has supported me fully from start to finish. She has continued to check up on me and answer a lot of my concerns and questions throughout this journey, especially when coming back to CSU after I lost my mom to cancer. I probably wouldn’t be at the point I am at if it wasn’t for her.

What activities have you been most involved in?

A photo of the Ao's family dog
The Ao’s family dog

I was an assistant general manager and sushi chef of a local restaurant. That was a really fun and good experience. I also volunteered to help clean up and build houses in Vietnam in rural and poor communities. My favorite work experience was working at the Recreational Center. Everyone that I met while working there was amazing and felt like a close-knit group.

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

My proudest accomplishment is figuring out who I am, the connections I made, and what path I want to take for the future.

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 that I have become friends with and formed relationships with. We all will continue on our own path and I can only wish them the best and that we hopefully meet again.

What are your plans after graduating?

I have been accepted to attend Turing School of Software and Design. I am so excited and will be starting right after I graduate in January.

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