Cathy Chau Nguyen

Cathy Chau Nguyen, a UCI psychology B.S. sophomore, is one of five inaugural recipients of the UCI Social Sciences Moore Scholarship for Community and Social Change. The $2,000 award supports students who demonstrate the most academic promise and potential to enact change and improve the community. Below, the mental health advocate and aspiring psychiatrist from San Gabriel shares why UCI was her top choice for a college education and where she plans to go from here.

What made you decide to pursue your current field of study, and specifically at UCI? What interests you most about your work?

There are multiple factors that inspired me to pursue my degree in psychology. Human behavior in general is an endlessly fascinating subject that is equally relevant to everyday life. As a person, I wanted to understand myself and by extension, understand others better. This curiosity made me gravitate toward the field of psychology which aims to unpack the complexities of the human experience. However, the most critical factor for me was personally experiencing the social and cultural stigma surrounding mental health (and the greater field of psychology as a whole) and its effects on the members of my community. Many of my close friends and peers struggled with their mental health but lacked the proper support to identify or cope with their issues. In my own experiences, it was difficult to open up about my struggle with depression and anxiety amidst the academic culture of “grinding” coupled with my family’s lack of understanding of mental health as a concept. As I learned more about psychology, I gained a better understanding of my own thoughts and emotions which greatly aided in my healing process. From this experience, I saw the potential and the power of the field to change lives merely from exposure and awareness.  I decided to pursue psychology specifically at UCI due to the immense resources and opportunities that the School of Social Sciences offers. The diverse student and faculty population also drew me in as I believe that it is important to approach psychology from an intersectional perspective.

When do you plan to finish your degree and what are your plans thereafter?

I plan to finish my degree in Spring of 2026. As of now, my career goal is to become a psychiatrist so I plan to attend a medical school after earning my bachelor’s degree at UCI. In the case that I cannot attend medical school right away, I hope to further my education by earning a master’s degree.

What’s been your biggest UCI accomplishment thus far? Also, tell us about some of the activities you’re involved with outside the classroom.

So far, I would consider my biggest accomplishment at UCI to be my winning entry in the Humanities Core Arts Competition. My poem “Ink Spill” earned third place in the competition and was displayed at the gallery exhibition. Although it may not seem like a “prestigious” or “noteworthy” achievement, it holds great personal significance for me as a writer and a student at UCI. Poetry is a profoundly personal artform for me that I rarely shared in the public eye. Submitting my piece to the Humanities Core Arts Competition marked a pivotal point in my journey as an artist that also allowed me to feel more involved with the UCI community. During my time at UCI, I also had the opportunity to earn the Summer Success Scholarship to fund my education over the summer.

I am also currently involved with the Campuswide Honors Collegium program at UCI and beginning my first year as a peer tutor for the Writing Center at the Science Library.

Who has played an important mentorship role in your life thus far and why? Specifically at UCI?

The mentor figure that had the most profound influence on me as a person was my high school AP Literature teacher, Mrs. Drew. As an educator, she pushed me to hone my technical skills and continuously challenged me to expand my way of thinking. The knowledge she imparted from the curriculum extended to the world beyond the classroom. In the process, I learned to become a student of the world and regain my love of learning which had fizzled out in the past due to my disillusionment with the seemingly soulless education system. I continue to hold onto this intellectual curiosity as I continue my academic career at UCI. She was also a valuable source of professional and emotional support for me as a budding adult. Thanks to her guidance, I gained the confidence to stick to my own core values and pursue the field of study that I am passionate about rather than succumb to the pressures of social and familial expectations. I would not be where I am today without the mentorship she had afforded me.

Are there any unique circumstances that have played a role in where and who you are today?

One of the most difficult challenges I faced was finding my identity. Growing up in a low-income, Asian-American household, my identity was written in stone by my parents and their culture values. I was told at a young age that I had to be a doctor to gain financial security and, more importantly to them, achieve social security as an educated and respectable figure. With these expectations, I had difficulty developing my own sense of personhood. My goals merely felt like an extension of my parents’ desires. Up until high school, I did my best to appease them but the doubts were brewing in my mind. I wasn’t sure if the life that they carved out for me was the one that I wanted. This uncertainty opened up new, formidable questions about my identity: what were my core values and aspirations—what did it mean to be me? This crisis motivated me to reflect on my experiences and reframe my perspective of life. I started taking more risks, challenging myself to experience new things, and embracing the idea of change and uncertainty. Career wise, this hurdle encouraged me to pursue my current aspiration for psychiatry. On a more personal level, I’ve grown to embrace myself as a thoughtful, reflective, and empathetic person. It was scary to realize that I didn’t know who I was but this was the first step in my journey of self-discovery, which I am still continuing as I grow as a student at UCI.

Where can you most often be found on campus?

Most days, I can be found walking through Aldrich Park to relax and clear my thoughts at the end of the day.

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

My favorite memory as an undergraduate was going on an impromptu, late-night drive to Seaside Donuts with my friends as a treat before midterm season. At that moment, I felt like I was getting the true “UCI student experience” that I had heard about so often from my fellow peers. The simple yet meaningful experience strengthened my connection to UCI and my sense of belonging within the greater community that resides alongside the school.

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