Moana Khan

Written By: Jada Miles

While her peers would spend time hanging out and going to prom, Moana Khan was going in and out of the Portage County Domestic Relations Court trying to be released from her father’s custody while simultaneously directing her remaining energy into academics.

Moana spent much of her formative years hiding in her room to avoid her stepmother’s emotional and physical abuse. Even worse, her father threatened Moana if she tried to seek outside help, including police, during such episodes. Moana had developed a strong distrust of her father because of his originally physically abusive background with her mother; however, he became more manipulative as time passed, and the situation at home became increasingly toxic. When the arguments between her stepmother and father would arise about Moana being at their house, her stepmother would threaten to harm herself and the rest of the family, and this became an almost daily occurrence in Moana’s life.

After a slight decrease in visitation, Moana eventually got released from her father’s custody during her senior year of high school. The last time she saw her father before being released, Moana had a moment of clarity as her baby half-sister told Moana to hide in her room during one of her stepmother’s tantrums, and it was at this key moment she had the realization that she was no longer going to be the child who hid in fear.

“That felt like a key moment to me,” Moana expressed. “I was transitioning out of this helplessness and going out into the real world.”

Her first step into this new world was to attend Kent State University to pursue her love for chemistry.

Moana’s mother was a researcher at Case Western University and, when Moana was little, her mother would take her along and show off different parts of the lab, which ignited the science spark in her.

“I remember waiting for the bus with my mother one time, and I asked her to draw me a periodic table in the snow,” Moana recalled fondly.

Moana started with a chemistry concentration within her major but struggled with the material and, due to her upbringing, intertwined her academic success with her self-worth.

“I was suffering, and I had exhausted all of my options to get academic support,” Moana admitted.

Eventually, one of her friends recommended biochemistry and during her first course, she fell in love with it. Moana switched her concentration to biochemistry and hasn’t looked back since.

Moana also chose Kent State for the opportunities to get involved. Despite not having any leadership experience within the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society organization, Moana ran for president last year with the support of her peers and faculty, and was elected. She was also involved with a former online leadership program early on, where she was able to establish life-long friendships with a variety of individuals and gain confidence with a new-found support system.

“I believe you should try to connect with as many communities as possible,” Moana explained. “Just so you can get a broadened perspective, as well as potential sources of support.”

From all of her life experiences, Moana is able to keep pushing through any obstacle that is thrown her way. No matter how challenging academics and life can get, she is always able to reflect and realize that she’s no longer in the severely traumatic situation she once was in, and can help herself now.

Moana concludes, “Try to be your best at all times, be kind to people who may need it at that moment and don’t know it yet.”