May 29, 2019

Scholar Voices: My journey to college and career success

Although my academic career at Pitzer College has come to an end, my learning journey will not. Two weeks prior to graduation, the foreseeable future was ironically still abstract and difficult for me to grasp. It brought me a feeling of excitement and nostalgia, encouraging me to reflect on my last four years at Pitzer College and six years as an Earl Woods Scholar.

I became part of TGR Foundation’s family during my junior year of high school. From the start, the Earl Woods Scholar Program provided me and my cohort with many college preparation opportunities such as college tours, a visit to the Getty Museum, an eating etiquette workshop, SAT prep classes and more.

College was never discussed in my family. We were simply immigrants and former farmers trying to make ends meet and get acclimated to the ever-changing American culture. My family dynamic did not allow me to understand the meaning of college, let alone the purpose and intention of these activities. However, I now recognize that the Earl Woods Scholar Program was not only preparing me for my new life as a college student but for my future phase as a working professional. All along, the foundation saw my potential to engage and adapt in a society that differed from my own and laying out the stepping stones for me to excel in a college and working environment.

My four years of college gave me a space to recognize, explore and build my identity. They were my most important developmental years yet including many challenges and rewards. Some highlights include organizing the Claremont Colleges’ first traditional Vietnamese dance, publishing two research articles, studying abroad in Hungary and Brazil and engaging in conversation around Asian American and first-generation college student experiences. The greatest reward was connecting with strong and independent peers who generously offered their support and encouragement.

Attending an elite liberal arts college also presented me with other unique challenges. The worst was feeling that I did not belong at the institution and that I needed to stretch myself thin to prove my worth. While these feelings of not belonging put me in uncomfortable positions these moments allowed me to rise to new challenges, confront the discomfort and evolve into the confident and courageous woman I am today.

Along the way, my Earl Woods Scholar mentor, Kim Trowbridge, has provided me with the utmost support. Because I had Kim by my side, I never felt left out from my friends who had access to many academic and financial resources. Kim always made the long drive to my school to have lunch with me every month. At first, this process made me feel uncomfortable as I never had an adult figure check-in on me so frequently.  However, over time, we built a strong bond and engaged in constructive conversations around my academics, career and social life goals. Kim never failed to assure me of how proud he was and always encouraged me to follow my heart. My success throughout the last four years is a reflection of the compassion and guidance that Kim has provided.

I am constantly amazed by the abundance of resources and opportunities that are geographically close to me, but yet are hidden and far from reach because of my socioeconomic background. I am constantly reminded that our societal structure and education system are shying these opportunities from students in my community. However, I am grateful for the foundation’s efforts to bridge this gap. I am a proud by-product of their work. For that, I offer TGR Foundation and their staff a million thanks.

Upon graduating from Pitzer College with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, I will spend my summer conducting research in Vietnam. My research utilizes the Human-Centered Design process to find culturally appropriate strategies to reduce bear bile demands. Upon my return to the United States, I will start my first job at Laserfiche as a software engineer. I accredit my family, friends, professors, the TGR Foundation staff, and Kim Trowbridge for helping me complete these huge milestones.

Redefining what it means to be a champion.