Thao Nguyen '12

SGMHS International Alumna Excels in Academia

Starting her sophomore year, Thao Nguyen came to San Gabriel Mission High School as an International Student from Vietnam. English was difficult for her at first as it was her second language. Thao asked for tutoring and received it every day at lunch and after school with SGMHS’ in-house tutor and alum, Jo Anne Jeffre-Disney, Class of 1971.  According to Ms. Disney, “Thao was an eager student and wanted to do her best in her English classes. With her determination and can-do attitude, when Thao graduated in 2012, she not only graduated with honors, but she received an award from the English department for her exceptional work. “

In June 2016, Thao graduated from the University of Washington with honors and received a full scholarship to Princeton, drawn to the PhD Program in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. According to Thao, “The main reason I am drawn to the PhD Program at Princeton is due to its ever-growing research culture with astounding faculty and amazing facilities. Electrochemistry, clean energy and storage devices are my areas of interest. I want an opportunity to specialize in these fields because they will provide me the tools to solve many current problems in Vietnam.  Overall, all the research fields available at Princeton clearly depict its potential impact on the environment and future society. I am really excited about the opportunity to explore these topics and build upon my knowledge as a chemical engineer.” Thao went on to say, “Many issues in Vietnam such as inadequate healthcare and inaccessibility to power and clear water are the result of pollution and poor usage of natural resources. As a Vietnamese citizen who has had the privilege to receive an advanced education here in America, I have a duty to act. Research in advance materials and clean energy will give me the ability to solve these problems and improve my people’s quality of life. Ultimately, I want to achieve this goal by influencing people in Vietnam and sharing my motivation with younger generations by becoming a professor in chemical engineering.”

According to Thao, “San Gabriel Mission High School was the most memorable and important start to my educational career in the United States. To describe Mission in the most visual and physical sense, I have two images in my memory.  First, it was the bridge that did a fine job connecting my past experience back home (Vietnam) with my present and future in America. At Mission, I was able to learn a new culture and perspective, including religion as well as gaining knowledge from others with very different backgrounds than mine, yet still holding on to my values from my Vietnamese culture. The respectful and open-minded culture at Mission certainly helped that. Second, the time spent at Mission was the spark in my educational career. Mission was where I began to learn the language that I now use on a daily basis. To all second language learners, learning a second language in depth is not a simple job or a one day task.  I will never forget the patience of teachers (friends) at Mission for me when I was their student (classmate).  And personally, Mission was the foundation for my success with learning the language. And finally, Mission provided me with a strong educational background that drives and motivates me in my educational career today. Also, the memories of Mission have really inspired me to choose academia as my life long career because I want to have some sort of impact on others as Mission High School had on me.” 

The SGMHS Community is very proud of Thao’s accomplishments and feels honored to have provided her with the educational foundation that has enabled her to achieve such academic success. Thao plans on graduating from Princeton sometime next year.