Scientist Pajau Vangay used to make ‘pretty code.’ Now, she studies guts.

Pajau Vangay

Pajau Vangay

If you’d told scientist Pajau Vangay a decade ago that she would be injecting sterile mice with human stool samples and on the precipice of completing a doctorate in bioinformatics and computational biology, she might not have believed you. Back then, she was working in Silicon Valley and earning a very good living as a software engineer, writing what she calls “pretty code.” But Vangay was restless. With multiple degrees in computer science, she yearned to solve difficult math problems like the ones she had tackled as a student. Vangay also wanted to use her computational and computer science skills to make a bigger impact in the world.

Vangay found a way to merge her scientific and community commitments through the Immigrant Microbiome Project, a University of Minnesota research study focusing on groups typically overlooked by academic research — in this case, hundreds Hmong and Karen women living in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, and Thailand, including first- and second-generation immigrants to the US.

I reported this story for PRI’s Across Women’s Lives series. You can read the full story here. (Photo credit: Nancy Rosenbaum)

2018 Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists Page One Awards

Minnesota SPJ Awards 2018

Minnesota SPJ Awards 2018Every year, the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists hosts an awards banquet honoring the best in Minnesota television, newspaper, magazine, and also radio journalism. In 2018, I received a first place award in the planned feature category for “Arnellia’s: Our Own Apollo,” about the closing of Minnesota’s last black-owned music club. I received a second place award for best radio feature for my portrait of Hmong chef Yia Vang. I reported and produced both of these stories for KFAI’s MinneCulture series. KFAI producers were recognized with six awards in multiple categories. I am proud to work with these talented people.You can listen to all of the KFAI-produced award-winning stories here.

(Photo from left to right: Producer Xan Holston, Producer Sophie Nikitas, Editor Todd Melby, Producer Erianna Jiles; Me)

Dancing Underwater While Trying Not to Drown

Subversive Sirens

Subversive Sirens

The Subversive Sirens are a Minnesota-based synchronized swim team that blends art, activism, and a deep love of Prince. I covered the Sirens for both KFAI community radio and MinnPost as the team prepared for its first-ever competition at the 2018 Gay Games in Paris, France. You can listen to my KFAI audio portrait below and read my MinnPost feature here. The Sirens would go on to win a gold medal at the 2018 competition. (Underwater photos: Rhea Pappas; All other photos: Erin Sharkey)