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SHE-CAN Scholarship Supports Purpose-Driven Education

Three Cambodian students have their sights set on bringing positive change back to their home country.

Three undergraduate students from Cambodia are pursuing their educations at Syracuse University as scholarship recipients of SHE-CAN, a global organization that seeks to create opportunities for high-achieving young women from post-conflict and climate-challenged countries to succeed in positions of power and leadership. Sythong Run ’24, Sreynoch Van ’26 and Pisey Kim ’26 all went through a highly rigorous and selective process to become SHE-CAN (Supporting Her Education Changes A Nation) Scholars. They are striving to develop professional skills at Syracuse to take home to Cambodia, hoping to inspire young women and children to follow in their footsteps.

Three students stand outside and smile together.

As SHE-CAN Scholars, Pisey Kim ’26 (left), Sythong Run ’24 and Sreynoch Van ’26 earned prestigious scholarships to attend Syracuse University and plan to return to their home country of Cambodia to work and inspire young women to follow in their footsteps.

Sythong Run: A Tree’s Influence

When Sythong Run was interning for Marine Conservation Cambodia while in high school, she participated in a “Question of the Day” each Monday. The internship took place on Koh Ach Seh Island, so it was fitting that one question was, “If you could plant any tree on this island, what would it be?”

“Well, I’d have a tree that gives me many different fruits,” Run told the group, to which they replied, “No, that’s cheating.” With a desire to prove them wrong, Run took to an internet search and discovered the Tree of 40 Fruit, a living creation of sculpture professor Sam Van Aken that sits on the Syracuse University campus.

This spurred Run’s intrigue in studying at Syracuse. “Initially I wasn’t too interested,” she says. “I had heard of the school name, but then I saw it had the tree!” Run now returns to the Tree of 40 Fruit every season to take a photo.

One of my dreams is to immerse myself in the Indigenous Cambodian community and write about their medical practices, but also capture their culture, because there hasn’t been much research done in those communities.

Sythong Run ’24

At first, studying in the U.S. wasn’t on Run’s radar. “I thought there was no way I’d be able to pay my tuition,” she says. “I was all on my own.” Her high school science teacher had other thoughts, recommending SHE-CAN and telling her, “I think you have a chance.”

Run succeeded in earning a SHE-CAN scholarship, thanks in part to her passion for public health and anthropology. For a high school project, she visited local communities in Cambodia and talked to people about their medical practices, pertaining specifically to Dengue fever, a prevalent illness there.

Run aspires to do similar fieldwork in the future, drawing on her interdisciplinary studies. She’s majoring in public health in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics and environment, sustainability and policy with a medical anthropology minor in the College of Arts and Sciences/Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. “One of my dreams is to immerse myself in the Indigenous Cambodian community and write about their medical practices,” she says. “But also capture their culture, because there hasn’t been much research done in those communities."

Three students look at camera together and smile.

Van shows off a picture she has taken to Run (left) and Kim in the Schine Student Center.

Sreynoch Van: Elevating Voices Through Film

Sreynoch Van ’26, a television, radio and film major in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, isn’t a fan of the fairytale ending. Her passion is documentary filmmaking and her favorite movie is Aftershock. “You kind of see what the Black community struggles with,” Van says of the documentary showcased at the Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival (SUHRFF) in 2022. “The movie itself doesn’t just end with sadness. It includes how those men come together and inspire each other. I cried watching that movie—it’s such an inspirational ending.”

Inspiration is a key pillar in SHE-CAN’s mission, and Van hopes to serve as a role model for other women in Cambodia. As a first-year student, she already has her sights set on a long-term documentary project.

Survivors of the Cambodian genocide—the four-year period in which the Khmer Rouge systematically killed 1.5 to 2 million people—are aging, and Van wants to tell their stories before it’s too late. “It’s especially important for the younger generation who were born and raised in the U.S. and are Cambodian American,” she says. “I think they’ve heard the story, but hearing the story and watching a film is a much different experience.”

Van believes she’s in the right place to accomplish that goal. When asked why she chose Syracuse University, she has an instant response: “Newhouse,” she says. “Newhouse, end of the conversation.”

At Syracuse, she is eager to take on more responsibility in film clubs and campus events, and she can draw on an incredible experience that took place closer to home. “I was contacted by a project manager to be an assistant and an accountant for John David Washington’s upcoming film True Love,” she says. The picture, set to be released in October, was filmed in Thailand in early 2022, and Van had a front-row seat.

“Production people are like the backbone of the camera,” Van says. “We had to do the practical work to make sure everything ran smoothly.”

Three students walk outside together.

Kim, Run and Van stroll down the Einhorn Family Walk on campus. While they didn’t know each other personally before arriving at Syracuse, the three now lean on each other for help and advice.

Pisey Kim: A Craving to Learn

Growing up in the rural Cambodian province of Ratanakiri, Pisey Kim wasn’t exposed to any grandiose architecture. Still, she developed a fondness for the art by helping her father build chicken and pig cages and watching her uncle, who is a carpenter, execute his work. “I was always interested in construction, and my initial idea was to build a house,” says the School of Architecture student.

Before enrolling at Syracuse, she attended college in the capital city of Phnom Penh, where she began to explore and read more, opening her eyes to global news and societal issues. One of those issues—women’s empowerment—caught Kim’s attention and she’s been actively involved with it through SHE-CAN, the Harpswell Foundation (a Cambodian organization dedicated to developing women leaders), and the School of Architecture. “At Syracuse, they showed us a yearbook and in the first generation of architecture students, there was just one girl,” she says. “When I looked around, I was surprised to see a lot of women in my architecture classes.”

Kim spends much of her free time buried in textbooks, furthering her understanding of key terms and concepts. “There are a lot of abstract concepts I have never had the chance to use in my own language,” she says. “Even though I try translating the terms and concepts to my own language, there is no direct translation, so it’s challenging.”

She finds herself studying so much that she’s passed up vacations with her SHE-CAN mentors. While Run and Van have each had the chance to travel in the United States, Kim has opted to stay in Syracuse and spend more time studying or working her shift at the King + King Architecture Library on campus.

Like Run and Van, Kim never expected to obtain a SHE-CAN scholarship. “I thought I might as well just see what happens,” she says. “Each round, I tried my best. It’s a competition, you try your best.” Kim kept moving on, and when she conquered the sixth and final round of the two-year application process, her parents couldn’t wait to tell the neighbors that their daughter was going to the United States.

Kim hasn’t seen her parents since she left Cambodia for the U.S., but they catch up during weekly video chats. “It gets difficult sometimes—how could it not?” she says. “I want to express that I miss them, but I don’t want to go home.”

As for the future, Kim plans to return to her home country for work, most likely in Phnom Penh. The capital is where the most architectural opportunities are, and while she hasn’t narrowed in on a particular job, she knows it’ll revolve around architecture. “I would like to become an urban planner, but I’m still open to learning more information regarding the field,” she says.

Right now, Kim is grateful for her SHE-CAN mentors who have helped her navigate financial, physical and emotional challenges since stepping foot in the U.S. “I feel a little guilty,” she says. “They have helped me a lot and I wonder how can I repay them?”

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