When Cullen College of Engineering student Quynh Nguyen read the email from the University Network notifying her that she had won a 2021 Hyundai Women in STEM Scholarship, she admits that it was a shocking experience for her.
“Since it was a competitive scholarship, I was so shocked that I won it,” she said. “I was also on a call with my brother, so I immediately sent him a screenshot of the email to double-check that I read it correctly. It was hilarious, because I actually dropped to my knees in the living room and kept reading the email over and over again.”
However, it wasn't the first time that Nguyen's hard work had been recognized. The Biomedical Engineering undergraduate senior has also earned a Society of Women Engineers Inspire Scholarship in May 2021 and the Premila Hariprasad Vyas Educational Trust Scholarship in June 2021.
Nguyen said she was first inspired to pursue engineering because of her father, Tot Nguyen, a mechanic.
“One time during Christmas, when I was in elementary school, I really wanted a Christmas tree for our house,” she said. “Since my parents couldn't afford one, my dad made a small Christmas tree for me out of tinsels and wires. This has motivated me to become an engineer that can utilize the resources around me and innovate meaningful solutions.”
She also looks to her mother Vung Nguyen as a role model, and she values the example of sacrifice she provided from a young age.
“The biggest influence in my life is my mom,” Nguyen said. “She was put in an arranged marriage at the ages of 19 and 20. She left her family, her hometown, her education to go start a family in a strange place. I used to feel ashamed that my mom abandoned her dream of becoming a teacher, and she gave up her scholarship to Ha Noi University of Physical Education and Sports to fulfill her parents’ wish for an arranged marriage. However, now when I look back on the sacrifices that she made, how she embraced her situation, how she valued her family and prioritized her filial duties above her own well-being... I have grown to respect the duality, versatility, and empowerment of the roles women take on. I am extremely grateful to all the women throughout history and especially in my life that have paved the way for young women like me.”
While attending high school at Concordia Lutheran in Tomball and now at the University of Houston, Nguyen has lived with another family that she is happy to call her parents, her aunt Hong Nguyen and her uncle Long Huynh. She said she got the opportunity to study abroad when she was 14. Her biological parents still live in Vietnam.
“They are the ones who taught me to have faith, to be compassionate and caring,” she said. “No matter what profession you are pursuing, you have to be a good person who lives not just for yourself but also for others. They always emphasize a proverb in Vietnamese that goes 'nghèo cho sạch, rách cho thơm,' or, 'Even if we must live in poverty, we must keep our good virtues' in English translation. Even if you encounter hardships and challenges, you have to keep your head high and don't ever lose your integrity and honesty.”
Nguyen was initially exploring out-of-state options for college, but she changed her mind after reflecting on the opportunities provided by UH. She's now glad she chose the school.
“It was one of the smartest decisions in my life,” she said. “I love the diversity here on campus. UH has a community for everyone, whether you are a woman in STEM, Vietnamese or an anime nerd. You have people from different backgrounds that come together to collaborate and learn from each other.”
“I think incoming Coogs must understand the importance of being involved in an organization,” she said. “I wouldn't have had the scholarship or got to where I am today without the help of these two wonderful organizations.”
Nguyen has the next few years loosely mapped out, but she's open to where opportunities take her after that.
“Moving forward, some of my goals are finishing my Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at UH, then I want to work in the industry for two to three years, and I might come back to get my Ph.D.,” she said. “I also want to get a certificate in Engineering Data Science. I think there is much to explore in the Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence realm.”