MayKao Y. Hang: Leading with Vision and Compassion from Wilder Foundation to Academia


MayKao Y. Hang is a name synonymous with leadership, vision, and dedication to community well-being. As the former President and CEO of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, Hang made significant strides in promoting equity, social justice, and community development. Her journey from a refugee background to a prominent leader in both the nonprofit sector and academia is a compelling narrative of resilience, education, and service.

Early Life

MayKao Y. Hang was born in Laos and spent her early childhood in a Thai refugee camp after her family fled the turmoil of the Vietnam War. Her family later resettled in the United States, seeking a better life and new opportunities. Growing up in a refugee family, Hang faced numerous challenges, including language barriers and cultural adjustments. These early experiences instilled in her a deep sense of empathy and a strong commitment to helping others.


Hang’s educational journey began in the public schools of Minnesota, where she excelled despite the obstacles she faced as an immigrant. Her academic success and determination led her to pursue higher education at Brown University, one of the most prestigious institutions in the United States. At Brown, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, which laid the foundation for her future career in human services and community development.

Recognizing the importance of furthering her education to better serve her community, Hang continued her studies at the University of Minnesota. There, she earned a Master’s degree in Public Affairs from the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Her education equipped her with the skills and knowledge needed to address complex social issues and lead with a focus on public service.

Career and Leadership

Hang’s professional journey is marked by her unwavering commitment to social justice and community empowerment. Before joining the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, she held various roles in the public and nonprofit sectors, where she worked on issues ranging from mental health to economic development.

In 2010, Hang was appointed President and CEO of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving lives through direct services, research, and community building. Under her leadership, the foundation expanded its reach and impact, addressing critical issues such as poverty, health disparities, and housing stability.

Achievements at Wilder Foundation

At the Wilder Foundation, Hang spearheaded numerous initiatives aimed at promoting equity and social justice. She focused on building partnerships with community organizations, government agencies, and private sector stakeholders to create comprehensive solutions to complex social problems. Her leadership was instrumental in advancing the foundation’s mission of promoting resilience and well-being among the most vulnerable populations in the community.

Hang’s work did not go unnoticed. She received numerous awards and recognitions for her contributions to the nonprofit sector and her advocacy for social justice. Her leadership style, characterized by compassion, strategic thinking, and collaboration, made her a respected figure in the community and beyond.

Transition to Academia

In October 2019, Hang transitioned from her role at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation to embark on a new journey in academia. She was appointed the Vice President and Founding Dean of the Morrison Family College of Health at the University of St. Thomas. In this role, Hang continues to impact the community by shaping the next generation of health professionals. Her focus on interdisciplinary education and community engagement ensures that the college addresses critical health disparities and promotes overall community well-being.


MayKao Y. Hang’s journey from a refugee camp in Thailand to the helm of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation and now to academia is a powerful testament to the impact of education, resilience, and a commitment to service. Her story is an inspiration to many, demonstrating that with determination and vision, it is possible to overcome even the most daunting challenges and make a meaningful difference in the world. As Hang continues to lead with compassion and innovation at the University of St. Thomas, her work will undoubtedly leave a lasting legacy of positive change and community empowerment.

For more information on MayKao Y. Hang and her work, you can visit the Wilder Foundation and University of St. Thomas.

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