Name: An Thien Nguyen
Major and current year at UCI: political science, junior
Award: David Rosten International and Community Service Scholarship and Elena B. and William R. Schonfeld Scholarship
Hometown: Riverside, California


Why did you decide to come to UCI?

I primarily chose the University of California, Irvine because of the institution’s deep commitment to providing avenues and advancement opportunities for first-generation students to live their American Dream. In addition, UCI was the UC campus that provided me with the most scholarships and financial aid. I also appreciated how close Irvine was in proximity to my hometown, Riverside, CA, so I wouldn’t be too far away from my family. As the oldest daughter, it was definitely a challenging role that I never asked for; however, having to grow up and assume major responsibilities shaped me into who I am today. I am an outspoken individual, and it stems from being an advocate for my family. That is why I wanted to stay close, because it meant I could still support my family and pursue higher education. Growing up, I actually frequented Orange County as my parents would come to Westminster and Garden Grove for ethnic resources, groceries, and health-related visits for culturally competent doctors. And, it is the very reason why I cherish being in the heart of Orange County because it was opportunity to circle back to my immigrant Vietnamese community.

When do you plan to finish your degree and what do you hope to do after?

I plan to finish my political science degree in June 2020, and hopefully embark on an open research study in Cambodia via the Fulbright Fellowship Program. Following my year abroad, I plan to enter graduate school, hopefully Stanford, the University of Michigan, or UC Berkeley, to pursue a doctorate in public policy where I intend to specialize in research on the social consequences of incarcerated individuals, racial disparities in criminal justice procedures, and immigration policy surrounding marginalized communities.

What activities have you been involved in on campus?

A quick list:

  • Political Islam Course - Course Reader  
  • UCI Model United Nations, Sixth Committee (Legal) - Director
  • UCI Scholarship Opportunities Program (SOP)- Scholarship Ambassador & Professional Development Intern                                                            
  • UCI First Generation First Quarter (FGFQ) Challenge Program - Student Leader and Administrative Intern
  • Global Connect @ UCI - Site Supervisor and GlobalScope Curriculum Guide Editor         
  • Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Intern      

What do you consider as your biggest UCI accomplishment?

I would consider my biggest accomplishment at UCI to be my research project on Southeast Asian deportations. Through the Social Science Honors Program, my study focuses on assessing the role of Asian American ethnic organizations in fostering community resilience and navigating the unpredictable policy environment of deportation that disproportionately impact Southeast Asian refugees.  I also am conducting an additional independent research project this summer to understand how various Asian Pacific American organizations translate research knowledge into organizational practices and policies to better serve our ethnic communities at the national level. For my senior year, I also plan on pursuing another research project through the Political Science Honors Department as well.

Another major milestone was serving as the National Policy Intern with the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center to create more accessible, nuanced, and comprehensive research on immigration, health, education, and aging for my Southeast Asian community on a national level.

Who has played an important role in your life thus far and why?

Neither of my parents went to college. So, what does this mean for me as an Asian American first-generation student? What does my cultural and ethnic background say about me? What are some of the obstacles and opportunities in my educational journey? As the child of Vietnamese refugees, my parents both collectively played a significant role in my life. To preserve tradition and culture, my parents established a Vietnamese church community to provide resources and promote solidarity amongst other refugees experiencing trauma and survivor guilt. There, I was an advocate for my family and Vietnamese community through handling financial statements, drafting letters to potential employers, and serving as a translator. This upbringing played an important role in solidifying my own academic interests in political advocacy, my professional desire in public service, and a (hopeful) career trajectory in community building.

Everywhere I turn, I witness the inequities ridden within my under-resourced immigrant community. Desperate to speak up for my community, I conduct research to assess how ethnic nonprofit organizations foster community resilience for Southeast Asians through education, policy advocacy, partnerships, and community engagement during adverse deportation situations. To better serve my community, I started interning at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Orange County to assist community members in applying for naturalization. I gained valuable insight into the lived experiences of Vietnamese immigrants, which include experiencing difficulty speaking English, struggling to find lucrative employment opportunities, grappling with bureaucracy, and still expressing their immense commitment to American ideals of democracy and freedom. I work with VietRISE to build creative strategies in taking collective action towards convoluted immigration policies and deportation situations. Ultimately, my AAPI identity and experiences have heavily influenced my passion for social justice to uplift, empower, and build resilience for marginalized communities.

I am also grateful for professor Long T. Bui and associate dean Jeanett Castellanos for encouraging me to start the research project, persevere with it, and bring it to fruition. I would like to provide special thankfulness, warmth, and appreciation to them for making my research successful and assisting me at every point to cherish my goal. To my faculty mentor, Long Bui, whose guidance and sympathetic attitude at every point during my research helped me garner immense appreciation for my Southeast Asian community, and delve deeper into my unique, Vietnamese-American heritage. To my faculty director, Jeanett Castellanos for her vital support and assistance. For the valuable help in preparation of the thesis, her critical and helpful comments on my early drafts made it possible to achieve the research project. Her encouragements and motivation burn vividly in my mind. I want to thank them both for believing in me when no one else would.

Where can you most often be found on campus?

On campus, I can be found most often at the Writing Center in the Science Library, because this is where the Scholarship Opportunities Program is located, and I spend the majority of my time working there.

What’s your best memory thus far from your undergraduate experience at UCI?

The best memory thus far has been being able to teach high school students through the Global Connect @ UCI program. As a Site Supervisor for Global Connect @ UCI, I teach 30 Model United Nations 9th grade high school students, direct a cohort of 3 interns, and curate lessons that will impact my students for life. In the classroom, I observe valuable lessons from my students; the most effective lessons are the kind in which students are actively interested and eager to apply into their personal, daily, and academic lives. In an ever-changing, globalizing society, I aim to empower my student as “global citizens” to recognize humanitarian issues and how they can contribute to the well-being of society on a local level.

Any other interesting tidbits you would like to share?

I have a younger brother who is also an Anteater (zot, zot, zot!) attending UCI right now. Everyone thinks we look like twins (which we do), but unfortunately, we are not.

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