Jasmine Vu Nguyen had a solid plan after high school: Attend the prestigious University of Washington and study science.
She wasn’t accepted into her dream school, however, and said her trust in herself disintegrated into self-doubt and insecurity. She didn’t know what to do with her long-held goals, and she questioned her capabilities.
What Nguyen did know was that she had to work with the opportunities she was given. She enrolled at a college in Eastern Washington, where in her first year she made the dean’s list. Her confidence rebounded — as did her determination to attend the UW.
Her perseverance and hard work paid off. She applied to UW Bothell and was admitted as a transfer student. She then continued to make the dean’s list every quarter through her graduation this past June. She was also named one of the UW’s Husky 100 students.
Each year, the UW recognizes 100 undergraduate and graduate students from Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma campuses who make the most of their time at the University. The recipients actively connect what happens inside and outside of the classroom, applying what they learn to make a difference on campus and in their communities. Nguyen is one of 11 students from UW Bothell to be recognized for 2022.
Challenge leads to chance
Although she was now at her dream school, Nguyen said her self-confidence did not fully return. She also at times struggled as a natural introvert. But she wanted to excel and knew she wouldn’t get far if she let her self-doubt stop her, so Nguyen challenged herself to contact professors with whom she wanted to do scientific research.
She says her lack of experience felt like a hindrance until she met Dr. Hyung Kim, assistant professor in the School of STEM. His work involved environmental and public health matters, specifically protein analysis of greenhouse gases, and he invited her to join his team as a scientific research assistant.
Throughout that academic quarter, Nguyen went to the lab every day after class to engage in experiments with graduate students, gaining insight into all the facets of research. “Knowing the chance Dr. Kim took on me, I wanted to demonstrate my interest and reliability,” Nguyen said. “Despite many mistakes, I kept persisting to find solutions to problems we encountered, such as instrument malfunctions.”
Eventually, she took on the task of training others and shared her knowledge in the same laboratory in which she doubted herself initially.
“Jasmine has learned to take initiative and create opportunities even under non-ideal circumstances,” said Kim. “I believe many students would have taken an easier path, but she has demonstrated over time her willingness to take on challenges, including research in my laboratory without prior experience.”
Impact here and abroad
Finding community and confidence academically gave Nguyen the courage to reach out in other areas as well. She joined UW Bothell’s Vietnamese Student Association and used her newly found leadership skills to become first the treasurer and then the vice president.
As a club officer, Nguyen said she wanted to make a meaningful impact within the Vietnamese community, both locally and internationally given that many club members had relatives in Vietnam. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, she led an effort to conduct an online fundraiser for COVID-19 relief, helping to provide medical assistance to impoverished communities in Vietnam. The event was a success, she said, and the club exceeded its fundraising goal.
For Nguyen personally, she said she found her own increased success through the skills she gained leading and facilitating the club’s teamwork. She focused on incorporating themes of diversity and inclusivity in club meetings, for example, and reported that it helped increase membership by 35%.
Through the VSA, Nguyen also coordinated a Stop Asian Hate event to increase community safety. She worked to educate students inside and outside the club about how crimes against Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders were exacerbated by the pandemic and civil unrest. Her goal, she said, was to promote both equity and resilience.
Valuing the simplest things
Nguyen said her eyes were opened to profoundly resilient individuals in her life, particularly her uncle with Down Syndrome, through a course titled (Dis) Ability, Education and the Arts. At a young age, she found her uncle’s condition confusing and did not know how to communicate with him. In the course, she was able to reflect on her beliefs about the disabled community, which led her to shift her thinking about her uncle.
Finally understanding that he didn’t have a “bad disease” — as she grew up thinking — Nguyen began to spend more time with him.
“I have truly seen his exuberant character and watched him enjoy life through the simplest things,” she said. “Even though we cannot directly communicate with each other, our relationship has grown just by spending quality time together. This class made me more aware of my implicit biases, and I feel empowered to advocate for people living with disabilities.”
Nguyen also applied this classroom learning to her job as a registered dental assistant. The first time she performed a cleaning on a six-year-old patient with a speech impairment, she relied on the deep understanding she gained in class and the compassion she had grown to show her uncle. “The patient was scared at first,” she said, “but after taking the time to comfort her and gently talk her through the various steps of the cleaning, she became less anxious.
“After that experience,” Nguyen, “I felt more confident about my skills and my plan to pursue a career in dentistry.”
Lasting lessons learned
Nguyen graduated in 2022 with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry with a minor in Biology. As a result of her diverse academic and extracurricular experiences, she is committed to breaking social barriers to create more inclusive environments for those with disabilities.
She also credits UW Bothell for helping her have the courage and new insights to make the most out of any situation.
“My decision to persevere through situations I thought to be obstacles has taught me important lessons about my strength,” she said. “I have UW Bothell to thank for those teachings, along with the confidence to develop who I can be as I pursue my career and community engagement.”
As Kim, the professor who gave Nguyen a chance at a critical point in her college career, noted, “Jasmine has matured and developed an incredible level of confidence since her arrival at UW Bothell. She embodies the student academic who also has deep interests and concerns outside the campus.
“I envision great success for Jasmine post-graduation from UW Bothell.”