Mindy Le outside the SSA building on CSUEB's Hayward campus. (Photo: Jesse Cantley)
On June 15 at the College of Science commencement ceremonies, ThanhPhuong (Mindy) Le will achieve her dream of earning a college degree and take another step toward her next dream — medical school and a career as a pediatrician.
For Le, who will earn her B.S. in biological sciences, the years leading up to today have been challenging ones. Like many of her classmates and fellow Pioneers, Le is a member of the first generation in her family to earn a college degree. As an immigrant, she’s worked hard to adapt to American culture and learn English.
The Les — Mindy, her parents, and her two siblings, moved to California from Vietnam when Mindy was just 14, in search of a better life. Le’s father, who had been an independent business owner, took a job washing dishes, and her mother worked as a housemaid. The family had to live together in a single room.
“I had never seen my parents with their backs so low to the ground, working so many hours that they could barely speak a word to their children,” she recalls. “Experiencing continuous financial hardship and seeing my parents shedding tears from hard labor tore me down.”
Just five year later, Le graduated from high school and was thrilled to be heading to college. But she didn’t find the academic and financial support she needed to stay enrolled. She transferred, more than once, trying to balance a busy schedule of work and taking care of her family — which soon included Le’s own son.
In 2009 Le was admitted to Cal State East Bay as a transfer student, studying biology and chemistry. The College of Science offered the personal attention she’d hoped for, as well as access to resources like tutoring, scholarships and mentors. She had finally found the environment that could help her achieve her goals.
During her three years at CSUEB, Le has worked with the EXCEL Program for first generation college students as a tutor, joined the PLANT (Parents Learning and Networking Together) group for students with children and founded the Health Connect student club for pre-med students. She’s also a member of the University Honors Program and assists faculty in the College of Science.
She credits faculty and staff across campus with her success. "They offer a lot of support that makes me feel like it's really worth it to stay in school, that I can succeed," she explains. “I feel comfortable with them, and they really listen to students.”
Years of trying to succeed in unfamiliar environments — and sometimes failing — prepared Le to ask lots of questions, too. “That's how I found lots of the resources available on campus,” she said.
Still, it was a struggle to pay tuition fees, support her family and keep her grades up. “Every quarter started out the same way,” Le says, with the growing cost of tuition, textbooks, and transportation for her 60-mile round-trip commute from San Pablo, where she lives with her family. Without financial aid, Le wouldn’t be graduating this month, or planning to apply to medical school.
This spring, CSUEB shared Le’s story with friends and donors to encourage support for the Annual Fund, which raises money for scholarships, programs and other urgent needs. Scholarships, including ones provided by the College of Science fund, enabled Le to stay enrolled full time, even as fees rose, without taking on additional debt.
Le knows exactly how important support for students like her is. It made all the difference for her education, and she hopes to return the favor some day.
"I plan to make my first gift to the University when I get my first paycheck as a doctor."