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Athena Nguyen photo

Athena Nguyen photo

Fulbright Scholar Athena Nguyen

Athena Nguyen ’18 is a public health science and political science double major who will serve as an English Teaching Assistant in Vietnam. 

When was your “aha moment” when you realized you could be a Fulbright candidate?

The first day I went to work at the care facility for children with special needs in Peru, I met a woman who was a burn victim. She had no nose, no eyes, ears, and no lips. I remember feeling overwhelmed and I came home and I cried because I didn’t know what to do. I thought to myself, “What am I doing here? How can I possibly help?” That was an important experience for me and when I came back to the U.S., I applied for the Global Social Benefit Fellowship. In my application, I talked about craving an experience where I felt like I impacted the community. I eventually came to realize that these experiences would lead me to do a Fulbright.

What sort of “high impact” experiences did you have at SCU and how did they prepare you for being a Fulbright?

As a public health and political science major, I took a lot of research-based classes, but I didn’t have the opportunities to make real-life applications until my experience as a Global Social Benefit Fellow. This experience was really unique for me because I was able to create a research project, execute it in the field, and compile that research into reports.

Where did you observe SCU’s values most in this process?

Something that I have come to appreciate is a quote by Paul Farmer, one of the founders of Partners in Health. He says, “to accompany someone is to break bread with them,to be present on a journey with a beginning and an end.” Santa Clara University’s values of being a person for others is something that goes hand-in-hand with this and it’s something that I’ve tried to incorporate in my experiences in Peru, Myanmar, and Santa Clara.

I saw this in Peru, where people would show up for a week and say, “well, my volunteer hours are done,” or “I took all the photos that I wanted to take of me helping kids.” And I remember thinking, that’s not what it means to accompany someone or be a person for others. When you accompany someone, you get to know them and they get to know you. It’s much more personal than quantitative data because all that misses what it means to understand the context of somebody’s life.

How would you describe the responsibility you were given as an undergrad at SCU?

My responsibilities as a Jean Donovan Fellow included proposing my community-based program, organizing the logistics, and managing my own expenses. My responsibilities as a Global Social Benefit Fellow encompassed creating an action research plan, conducting research in the field, compiling my data, and writing research reports and other deliverables.

What sort of support did you get along the way?

Dr. Leilani Miller was an incredible source of support because I met with her quite often. Keith Warner was also a significant part of my application. Keith sat down with me and said, “Everything is going to be fine. Here’s what we’re going to do to make sure you’re going to be calm and prepared.” A while ago, I was sitting in Dr. Miller’s office and panicking because I was unsure about the future. I am grateful for them because I know they genuinely care about me.

I also find support in the Santa Clara faculty and staff. My bosses through my jobs on campus have been instrumental to my support system. I know that SCU faculty and staff are genuinely interested in what I’m doing. For instance, when I got the Fulbright I emailed a bunch of them just telling them thank you so much for all you’ve done for me.

Another part of my support system is Residence Life. This is my second year as a Community Facilitator and I appreciate the opportunity to build relationships with my residents and staff members. The relationships I have with my residents are the best!

Interesting moments?

The day I hit the submit button on my Fulbright application, a bunch of my residents were in my room because they wanted to support me. They took a photo of me with my laptop screen that displayed the “Thank you for your application” message. They captioned the photo, “Our CF is going to be a Fulbright scholar! Athena for president!” I saved those photos because no matter what happens, they have believed in and supported me since the beginning.