Far from home to realize freedom of speech and the American dream

Vietnamese student demonstrates that the right tools and opportunities lead to doing good while doing well

Tuan Nguyen

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

Arizona Western College in Yuma, Arizona, accepted a student from Saigon, Vietnam, in January 2015. Tuan Nguyen traveled alone to the small town. He didn't know anyone. Despite this, Nguyen chose the public community college for its affordability.

Even though he'd studied abroad in Germany through a summer scholarship that he earned in high school, "the idea of living in a foreign country with no friends and family was then unrealistic," Nguyen said. "My mother thought differently; she was determined that I should study abroad."

Like many Asian countries, Vietnam's education system is rigorous. Even so, Nguyen always ranked first in his class.

Passing the high school entrance national exam with top scores, he got admitted to a prestigious Vietnam high school for the gifted. It's no wonder Nguyen transferred to Barrett, The Honors College in 2017 to major in supply chain management, thanks to winning an All-Arizona full-ride scholarship.

"I'm not one of the high school kids who can't wait to take their first supply chain management course. I had never heard of the term before attending college," Nguyen said.

He was hooked after entering his first Case competition during his first semester.

"My true 'aha' moment came when I learned about a principle in supply chain management that there are no bad people. There are only bad processes, and the role of supply chain professionals is to improve the processes for people to succeed," Nguyen explained.

Nguyen's English was cultivated by his love of reading and trips to the bookstore with his dad.

"I mended the gap by reading books," he said.

At ASU, Nguyen has volunteered in the Sunhacks student organization, International Night cultural festival, and the Vietnamese Student Union. He's stayed active in the Barrett Transfer Student Committee and InnovationSpace program.

He's entered four Case competitions, winning three and becoming a finalist in one, including Dell EMC, JDA Software, ON Semiconductor, and Cicso, respectively. The competition for ON Semiconductor led to a summer logistics internship.

Nguyen is graduating this semester with a degree in supply chain management and a certificate in business data analytics from the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“Neither getting good grades nor landing a high-paying job was my goal," Nguyen said. ”My goal was to realize my belief that everyone, given the right tools and the right opportunities, can thrive in their ways. Over the past four years, I strived to do just that and will continue doing so in my career.

Nguyen answered some questions from ASU Now:

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I was fortunate to be named in the All-Arizona Academic Team and receive a tuition waiver to any of the state universities in Arizona. I chose ASU because of its leading business program at W. P. Carey (School of Business) and the unique Barrett experience.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I've learned many lessons from many professors during my time at ASU that I will carry with me into my career. But Professor (Eddie) Davila taught me the most important lesson — his Cow Path Theory, which is about why we are content with the status quo. Without giving too much away, the key takeaway is don't be afraid to change.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: First of all, you shouldn't listen to my advice; I am well-known for making bad choices, except for the time I chose ASU. Jokes aside, I strongly believe that college may very well be the best time of one's life, so I would encourage others to explore their passions, pursue them and not settle for anything less. Your life is a story, choose audacity over certainty.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: Leaders Academy lounge! It's where I did my homework, worked on group projects with friends, and applied for jobs, got rejected, and got accepted; all sorts of things happened there. Free coffee during finals week is the icing on the cake.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be joining Microsoft as an operations program manager, overseeing end-to-end launches of Microsoft products and services.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem in the world, what would you tackle?

A: There are many problems we are facing that need to be resolved. But if I had to pick one in a heartbeat, I would choose education. In the U.S., not everyone has access to higher education. In other parts of the world, kids can't even go to school. If we truly believe that everyone has the right to the pursuit of happiness, then everyone has the right to education. With knowledge comes power — the power to change one's life and the lives of others.

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