They sat huddled around a radio, the sound barely audible with the dial tuned to BBC, an act punishable with jail time if caught. 

To then five-year-old Nhu-Ngoc Ong, the daily childhood ritual during the early 1980s provided a glimpse of life outside the tightly monitored socialist Vietnam. 

“I remember my mom warning my dad and I to turn down the volume because she was worried that our neighbors might hear and turn us in,” she says, explaining that her mother’s fears were not without merit - Ong’s father spent four years imprisoned for an act deemed reactionary right after she was born.

But they still listened - taking in, analyzing and discussing the news from around the world.  The experience would serve as a catalyst for her future career path as Ong, now 32, is a UCI political science graduate student and the new managing editor of Vien Dong Daily News. One of Orange County’s largest Vietnamese language newspapers, the Daily News is located in the heart of OC’s Little Saigon, an area stretching from Westminster to Garden Grove which boasts more than a quarter of its population as Vietnamese American according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Focused primarily on Vietnamese issues overseas and in Vietnam, the paper gives her the power to “educate people on important issues in the world, provide perspectives, and help them stand on their own two feet in formulating their own opinions, uncensored,” she says.

“One of the benefits of living in a free society is having the ability to be critical and freely discuss controversial issues,” she says.  In the December 1 issue, for example, she authored a front page story outlining perspectives on the recent University of California fee hikes, a topic she says would not have been open for discussion in her native Vietnam. 

“I love exploring new subjects and finding different angles and perspectives from which to view an issue,” she says. 

As a child, her parents helped satiate and develop this interest as best they could within government guidelines through homeschooling.  Tutoring sessions from local teachers in the humanities, social and hard sciences provided her with a broad background from which to begin formulating her own opinions of the world.  When her family moved to the United States, her keen intellectual curiosity and academic performance in the classroom helped her earn a presidential scholarship to attend Cal State Fullerton and served her well as a student in UCI’s political science graduate program. 

She has specialized in political psychology, pairing her interests in how people think and feel with studies of democracy and government. Early in her program, she worked with Russell Dalton, political science professor, on a study that brought to Vietnam the country’s first public opinion survey on attitudes and feelings toward democracy and market economy.  Their findings and follow-up studies have been published in journals which include Comparative Sociology and the Japanese Journal of Political Science.

A later study, co-authored with sociologist David Meyer and published in the Journal of Vietnamese Studies, brought her back to her interest in media as she explored newspaper coverage of Vietnamese protests in Orange County and across the U.S, and  last month, she successfully defended her dissertation in which she tackled the issue of government censorship of pop music in Vietnam, a topic she says exemplifies how authority is bought and sold in the country.  Her committee was chaired by Dorothy Solinger, political science professor.

“Life in Vietnam – the experiences, the culture and the language – are all part of my heritage and I’m passionate about learning more and educating others in the process,” she says.

After she receives her Ph.D. this month, Ong plans to continue working full time at her post as managing editor of Vien Dong Daily News.  To her, the career in journalism is “a great fit” and not so different from the more traditional academic track taken by many Ph.D. alumni. 

“As a researcher, I’m never satisfied with what I know and this is true of research in academics, industry and society.  I’m always looking for new ways of thinking about and educating others on different problems.  My role with the Daily News provides me the professional space to do this daily, and the voice to ensure that accurate, uncensored stories get told.”


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