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Catching up with Legacy

In the tightly woven fabric that is Nichols College, legacy families – generations of families with multiple Bison – are among the strongest fibers.  Such are the ties that bind Bountiap Ketnouvong ’03 MBA ’05 and her son, Nicholas Douangchandy ’22. Their Nichols experience may be non-traditional, but their story of grit, hard work, commitment to service, and family above all is anything but atypical.

Ketnouvong came to the United States from her native Laos when she was 14. The family’s journey as refugees was not easy. Her youngest brother suffered from nearly fatal malnutrition. When they settled in Southbridge, Mass., her parents, both veterinarians, had to completely start over, finding work at Dexter-Russell.  

The oldest daughter of a close family of six children, Ketnouvong remembers acclimating quickly, especially as she learned English. Small for her age, she was placed three grades behind at school (“They thought I was a genius,” she quips), but even when the situation was righted, she continued to flourish. Her parents taught her and her siblings to take nothing for granted and stressed the importance of education and family. Lessons that followed Ketnouvong to Nichols.

As a single mother to two school-aged sons, Ketnouvong attended classes mostly at night. “I used to bring Nicholas with me,” she says. “There were many willing students who would babysit for him or show him around.” She also worked 40-hour weekends as a home healthcare coordinator and provider, to accommodate the boys’ schedules.

Earning not one but two Nichols degrees during that time was a big achievement for this double Bison, who is currently an analyst at Saint-Gobain in Worcester. “I love my job,” she says, noting that she works for a fellow double Bison Jennifer Corridori ’99 MBA ’04.  The example she set also made a distinct impression on Douangchandy.

“My first memory of Nichols is being in the classroom while my mom presented her final project for a class,” he says. But before becoming a Bison himself, Douangchandy enlisted in the U.S. Army, following in the bootsteps of multiple family members, including an aunt who served in the Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, as well as a great uncle who was recruited by the CIA to fight alongside American troops during the Vietnam War.

With specialized airborne training, he served with the 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion, Sapper Company, headquartered in Anchorage, Alaska. “Alaska was beautiful,” he says, adding, “I've never been so cold in my life, but it was worth it,” even on four- to five-mile runs in temperatures as low as minus 10 degrees. 

Why airborne? “I had a fear of heights, and I wanted to overcome that fear,” he explains. Of his 36 jumps, he counts #6 as is favorite. “It was a Black Hawk jump in the middle of the summer in Alaska. I saw the mountaintops and the city of Anchorage from a helicopter view.” Helicopter jumps are among the most sought after, Douangchandy points out. “It's limited seating, you sit on the floor of the helicopter with your feet hanging out and the door is open.”

After his last jump, with his feet firmly on the ground, he followed in his mother’s footsteps back to the Hill, utilizing his GI bill to study business and economics at Nichols.

Now entering his senior year, Douangchandy reflects on the experience. “Transition from the military is mentally and emotionally really challenging,” he admits. “Professor [Boyd] Brown, a former marine, reached out and helped me adjust to the new environment.” He also admires Visiting Assistant Professor Rob Russo, who battled cancer, twice, while still teaching his courses. “Nothing can stop Professor Russo, in my opinion,” he says.

The same may be said for Douangchandy, who is setting his sights on finding “the perfect job that doesn't make it feel like I'm going to work.” Until then, he says, “A house would be nice, too.” Make that two; Ketnouvong hopes to eventually have a vacation place in Laos where she can reconnect with family still there.