Name: Vy Nguyen
Host Site: CSU Long Beach
Alma Mater: CSU Fullerton
Major: Biological Science (concentration in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology)
Background: As a first generation college student, I had little confidence in my potential to succeed or even finish college. Although my parents could not help me academically, their emotional support played a major role in my educational success. During my first college biology course, I learned about gene flow, genetic drift, and speciation, and was exposed to how scientists applied these evolutionary concepts to real-life research studies. This course intensified and initiated my curiosity for exploring research opportunities. Following that semester, I was invited to accompany my evolution and biodiversity professor, Dr. Jennifer L. Burnaford, to Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL), Washington for five weeks of research. At FHL, I assisted with fieldwork and investigated the predation of limpets and marine snails on Endocladia muricata, an intertidal rockweed. After interacting with FHL professors, I saw the different research avenues I could pursue, including marine science. My research interests in marine sciences escalated when I joined Dr. Burnaford’s laboratory and assisted with various ecology-based research projects in the intertidal zone. While participating in the lab, I joined the Research Career Preparatory (RCP) program at CSUF to learn more about the different scientific careers. After completing the RCP program toward the end of my sophomore year, I was accepted into the Southern California Ecosystem Research Program (SCERP) funded by the National Science Foundation that supports students interested in ecology and environmental biology. The SCERP program was two years long and offered faculty-mentored research that allowed me conduct my own independent research project investigating low tide effects on the photosynthetic health of the feather boa kelp, Egregia menziesii. While in the SCERP program, I also participated in a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Friday Harbor Laboratories for eight weeks. There, I assessed the effects of low tide exposure on the photosynthetic health of the sea cabbage kelp, Saccharina sessilis. My undergraduate research experiences have culminated in multiple poster presentation and oral presentations at both regional and national conferences. Participating in these research projects enriched my critical thinking, communication, and time management abilities. More importantly, conducting research opened opportunities and allowed me to acquire additional scholarships and was selected as a Biology Undergraduate Research Training scholar. Furthermore, participating in this program and receiving high quality mentorship throughout college was critical to my character development, both personally and professionally.
After graduating college, I knew I wanted to take a year off to relax from academia, but still remain proactive as a person. As I was scouting for something to do during my year off, my research mentor, Dr. Burnaford, forwarded me the CSU STEM VISTA advertisement and I decided to apply after reading about the program and their mission. I got accepted into the program and was placed at my top choice, Cal State Long Beach, to work the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) Program. My role as a CSU STEM VISTA at CSULB is to increase awareness about the BUILD program to students at Cerritos College, Golden West College, Long Beach City College, and various high schools in Long Beach Unified School District. I have worked with various faculty members and staff to coordinate outreach activities, create outreach materials, and host info sessions at the community colleges about STEM opportunities at CSULB. Being a CSU STEM VISTA at CSU Long Beach thus far has been beneficial for my personal growth and professional development. At this point in my life, I look forward to having more opportunities!
Why you serve: I decided to serve as an AmeriCorps*VISTA because I value the idea of alleviating poverty through community empowerment, building capacity, and developing sustainable solutions. I feel that as a person living in the U.S, I should contribute to society to make it better, not only for myself, but for people living in the same neighborhood. Specifically, I chose to serve as a CSU STEM VISTA because I believe equity is possible, and I feel that every student who is interested in the STEM fields should have resources so that they can reach their full potential. As a first generation college student, I believe that the mentorship I received at CSUF was crucial in helping me get to where I am today. Receiving mentorship at CSUF opened doors that allowed me to obtain various opportunities and acquire important life-long skills. Because I was able to succeed through different opportunities, I wanted to give back and help students who are from similar backgrounds as me so that they can see their true potential and blossom!
Accomplishments: So far, my greatest accomplishment in my VISTA year was that I conducted outreach to a total of 1,356 community college and high school students, and 400 faculty and staff members. By conducting outreach activities through presentations at various community colleges and high schools, I have learned to speak to a variety of audiences.
Advice: My advice to future AmeriCorps or CSU STEM VISTA members is to be patient. As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, it is in our hearts to want to make a difference, whether it is big or small. However, sometimes the difference that we strive to create cannot be seen immediately or even within the year of our service. Because we are so eager to make a change, not seeing results immediately can be discouraging and might make us believe that we are not doing much. It is during those discouraging times that we have to be patient and believe that our work is impactful and meaningful! At the beginning of my service, I felt that I was not contributing to the BUILD program, but over time, I realize that the act of bringing awareness and outreach to students at various level is impactful because now they know what opportunities are available to them at CSULB!