Sam Vi-Tang’s time at UCLA has been so packed with interests and accomplishments that it’s hard to enumerate them. President of the Panhellenic Council. Air Force ROTC Cadet Wing Commander commissioning into Space Force after graduation. NASA intern hoping to create sustainable energy with novel materials and inorganic chemistry. 2023 True Bruin Distinguished Senior. Bruin basketball fan.
She didn’t set out to juggle so many roles, but she does so easily now.
“In high school, I didn’t have a clear idea of who I was or who I wanted to become,” Vi-Tang said. “I was trying to navigate a world I felt I had no control in. Of the campuses I toured, everyone I met at UCLA was so multidimensional and kind, and I knew these were the people I wanted to be surrounded by. The friends I’ve made here have truly shaped who I am today.”
She rushed a sorority and joined Air Force ROTC. Being in the Panhellenic community helped her find her voice as she drew strength from other accomplished women. ROTC helped her find discipline, purpose, drive and integrity, and she sought to instill the same in each new class of cadets after her.
Just six months into her freshman year, the COVID-19 pandemic sent college life entirely online. During that time of reflection, motivated by the calls for social justice in her organizations, Vi-Tang became the vice president of communications for the Panhellenic Council. Throughout the next two years in that post, and later as president, she helped reform outdated recruitment practices, making inclusivity a priority. She hoped the organization would become a place where people from diverse backgrounds would feel welcome and find a support system on campus just as she had.
Meanwhile, as a chemistry and materials science major, she was conducting research in Professor Richard Kaner’s lab on using doped carbon nanodots to improve energy storage devices. That work led her to commission into the U.S. Space Force as a space operations officer, where she hopes to apply her knowledge of energy materials to the development of space vehicles.
But Vi-Tang said her most profound “I am a Bruin” moment was in March 2023, toward the end of her senior year.
“Hands down, it was this year at the men’s basketball team’s last home game, against Arizona,” she said. “The stands were packed, and the energy was unlike anything I had experienced before. It was senior night, and as I looked around at my friends and the pavilion full of students, alumni, and players sharing this moment — a community I joined only four years ago — I had a bittersweet realization: We were all headed in different directions and this was one of the last times we’d experience something like this all together before graduation.”