Campus: Fullerton - May 21, 2007

CSUF Human Services Graduate Is Nominee for the 2007 William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees' Award for Achievement

Vietnamese Immigrant Plans to Work With At-Risk Children

As the eldest child of an immigrant family from Vietnam, Kylie Nguyen had a challenging childhood similar to others who journeyed to the United States. She missed out on enjoying her early years in her new country because while her parents worked hard to make ends meet, she gave all her time to help raise her three younger siblings.

"My parents came to this country with nothing," said Nguyen, 33, who was 6 years old when her family arrived in the United States in 1980, fleeing the communist country after the fall of Saigon. "With four children to raise, they worked long hours to keep a roof over our heads — and they needed me to watch my siblings. I didn't have much of childhood; though it wasn't their intention, I felt neglected and abandoned. I didn't have a sense of identity."

After high school, instead of going to college as her parents wished, Nguyen fled to seek her own path in life. She embarked on a 12-year journey that involved volunteering for nonprofit organizations around the country, primarily working with at-risk youth and the elderly. She wanted to make a difference in the lives of people she met and worked with.

After years of service, she was haunted by the desire to work more effectively with troubled youth, but lacked the necessary education. So several years ago, after a friend's urging that she could make a greater impact in the lives of children if she pursued a formal education, Nguyen decided to go to college.

As a member of Cal State Fullerton's Class of 2007, the Fullerton resident is fulfilling her dream of completing a college degree to live out her passion to help children in need. She graduates this month with a bachelor of science in human services.

In the fall, Nguyen will begin work on a master's degree in social work at the university. She plans to then pursue a doctorate in the same field.

"My personal struggle as a returning student has been overcoming self-doubt, which stems from not fulfilling my parent's dreams of achieving academic success during my earlier years," said Nguyen. "But, I realized that I had to follow my own path towards self-discovery and redefine ‘success.'"

Because of her own experiences and struggles as a child, her ultimate goal after finishing her education is to work with emotionally disturbed children.

"I am particularly drawn to work with underprivileged children who carry deep pathological wounds, due to neglect and abuse," she said.

Nguyen is Cal State Fullerton's nominee for the 2007 William Randolph Hearst/California State University Trustees' Award for outstanding achievement. She was selected from a competitive pool of students for her exceptional academic performance and commitment to education and community service, said Robert L. Palmer, Cal State Fullerton's vice president for student affairs.

Palmer noted that the university is "indeed fortunate to have a student of this caliber at our institution."

Nguyen, a teacher's assistant, called it a privilege to be selected as Cal State Fullerton's nominee: "For me, it's a great honor. I'm very proud of our campus, and by getting this recognition, I feel that I'm representing the university in some way."

Michelle Berelowitz, a lecturer in human services and director of CSUF's Center for Community Collaboration, said that Nguyen, who is one of her students, is not only dedicated to her studies, but also exhibits excellent character and leadership skills.

"Kylie demonstrates exceptional academic success that is well-balanced with outstanding academic performance, campus involvement and community service," Berelowitz said.

CSU Trustees are scheduled to hold an awards presentation Sept. 18 for the Hearst scholarship winners. The award provides a $6,000 scholarship to the highest-ranking student who demonstrates need and merit.

Additionally, 22 scholarships of $3,000 each will be awarded to students who have demonstrated financial need, experienced personal hardships and have attributes of merit, including superior academic performance, exemplary community service and significant personal achievements.

Nguyen's undergraduate achievements include working on a research team to produce the 13th annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County; serving as a book reviewer for the eighth edition of the "Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy," authored by Gerald Corey, emeritus professor of human services; and participating in the National Science Foundation's 2006 Research Experiences for Undergraduates. She also completed a research study on "Trauma-based Treatment Approaches in Out-of-Home Care" and presented it at the Florida Mental Health Institute and at UC Berkeley last year.

Other involvements have included serving as president of the Vietnamese Catholic Student Association, as a project director for the university's Volunteer & Service Center and volunteer at the Isaiah House, a Santa Ana homeless shelter.

During Nguyen's volunteer service at the shelter, she spends time with families and their children, helps with food preparation and assists with the shelter's website. As project director for the Volunteer & Service Center's Hunger Coalition, she's organized student efforts with local nonprofits to bring greater awareness to Cal State Fullerton students about the prevalence of hunger and homelessness within Orange County. Projects ranged from coordinating hygiene kit and food drives to helping out at soup kitchens.

"She is truly a compassionate and giving individual who is determined to support the community throughout her education and her future career," said Amy Mattern, Volunteer & Service Center coordinator. "She is certainly someone who will be a leader in her field and in her community for many years to come."

Contacts: Debra Cano Ramos, Public Affairs, 714-278-4027 or

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