Cal State East Bay President Leroy M. Morishita as he presented senior LoanThi Kim Nguyen with the Hearst/CSU Trustees Award recently. (Photo: Courtesy Office of the CSU Chancellor)
Motivated to spare her young daughter the hardships that burdened her as an adolescent, Cal State East Bay senior Loan Thi Kim Nguyen is determined to succeed in her higher education pursuits.
Recently named the university’s recipient of the William R. Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees Award for Outstanding Achievement for 2012-2013, the 22-year-old Nguyen has had to overcome a lot of setbacks in her young life. She endured bullying by other students while in high school, and lived for a year in a foster home when her mother, a single parent, was unable to provide proper care at the time.
“As I grew up in a single-parent household, there were many challenges that I encountered,” said Nguyen, a San Leandro resident. “I was 14 years old when I was taken away from my mother and placed in a foster home along with my siblings. I was not allowed to return back home, but I was able to attend the high school that I was enrolled in.”
Nguyen, who speaks Vietnamese as well as English, said that she was the victim of rumors and harshly bullied by high school classmates.
“I was traumatized,” she said. “Sometimes I would have to ditch school on purpose, just for my safety. My grades and attendance were falling. Some (classmates) even tried to burn down my foster mom’s front yard in the middle of the night.”
After a year, she was able to return home to her biological mother, who enrolled her in another high school “for my safety.”
“I began to do well in school again, until my senior year, when (my grades) fell off,” she said. Still, she managed to graduate from high school, and enrolled at Laney College in Oakland.
Nguyen, a single mother, works part-time to support her daughter Lana and herself, while volunteering as a Vietnamese language interpreter at the Frank Kiang Medical Center in Oakland. Despite the demands on her time and energy, she maintains a 3.6 (out of a possible 4.0) grade point average and majors in sociology, with an option in social services.
“Education has transformed my life tremendously,” she said. “Going to school has given me a chance to make a better life for myself and, most importantly, my daughter Lana.”
One of her CSUEB mentors praised Nguyen for her enthusiasm and willingness to serve others.
“Loan is always one of the first students to offer her help with a project,” said Kevin Bristow, coordinator of the Renaissance Scholars Program, which provides guidance and assistance to foster youth who attend Cal State East Bay. “She is always willing to participate in our various events throughout the year. And whenever she can, she routinely offers her assistance to other members of our program.”
Her volunteer work at the medical center gives her hands-on experience in the field she hopes to eventually work in fulltime. After she earns her bachelor’s degree, she would like to get a master’s degree in social work. Her career goal is to help future foster youth.
“I would love to give back to the community that has helped me in my time of need, especially knowing that there are so many others out there living in the foster care system,” Nguyen said. “I strongly believe I can make a positive impact on the lives of others by achieving my goals.”