Fukwang Deng embraces his failures.
Today the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management student is weeks shy of graduating with a master’s—he earned his BA from the school in 2020—and looks the picture of success. He works part-time in the restaurant of two FIU alumni while exploring career options that align with his specialization in food and beverage management.
But the 25 year old makes no bones about his early days at FIU. He enrolled as a business major and soon landed on the academic probation list. After his second semester, he was booted.
“To be honest, I wasn’t ready,” says Deng, who cites lack of self-discipline as the culprit. With “no teacher like in high school breathing down your neck” to keep him on track, he felt “overwhelmed.”
The eldest child of Chinese immigrants, he also suffered a disadvantage of many first-generation students: His parents promoted higher education but could offer little guidance. “Some of that was the language barrier,” Deng says. “Some of that was lack of knowledge of the system.”
Having disappointed both himself and his parents, Deng eventually found self-motivation in the most time-honored of ways: by putting in 45-50-hour weeks over a fast food fryer. “While working the line, I thought, ‘I can’t do this for the rest of my life,’” he recalls saying to himself. “‘I need to grow and develop.’”
So Deng earned an associate’s degree at a community college and returned to FIU. At the Chaplin School, he took advantage of resources and opportunities to get to his goals. That included building relationships with an advisor—someone he calls a second mother—who offered critical support and thoughtful encouragement and a faculty mentor with whom Deng studied in class as well as on a weeklong food and culture experience in Italy. His upward trajectory garnered him a Quirch Foods scholarship, intended to help first-gen college students succeed.
Deng also accepted a teaching assistantship and volunteered for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, run by Chaplin students and gathering chefs, beverage experts and thousands of attendees to raise scholarship funds. It was in his leadership role at one of the festival’s largest events that Deng impressed a pair of local restauranteurs. He has been learning their business and sharpening his skills ever since, all the while using his former failings as the impetus for going further.
“If you don’t learn from the things you did wrong in the past,” he says with a wisdom borne of hard knocks, “you’ll never correct them in the future.”
With that attitude, he’s on his way.