Cecilia Nguyen (BS ’23) transferred to TU from Tulsa Community College in December 2020 thanks to a substantial transfer scholarship that allowed her to further her education while living at home. “I also had the privilege of establishing close connections on campus through active involvement in student organizations,” said the Tulsa native and Union High School graduate. “Because of these connections, I had a feeling that transitioning to university life would be easier.”
Upon joining TU in spring 2021, Nguyen became a member of the Vietnamese American Student Association, where she rose through the ranks, eventually assuming the role of president in her final year as an undergraduate. She also participated in other student-led organizations, including the Latin American Student Association, the Asian American Student Association, the South Asian American Student Association, the Women of Color Collective, the Association of Black Collegians, and the Association of International Students.
Nguyen said her transfer to TU amidst the COVID-19 pandemic made it challenging to socially transition onto campus due to virtual classes and limited opportunities to meet new people. However, her involvement with VASA changed that by connecting with fellow Vietnamese students who shared similar values and experiences.
“Through VASA, I had the opportunity to connect with other multicultural organizations, form meaningful friendships and network with notable leaders and administrators within the university,” she explained. “If not for VASA, I do not think I would have quickly adjusted to campus or had the networking opportunities that I did.” As a result, Nguyen was committed to ensuring that incoming Vietnamese students and students from underrepresented and marginalized groups felt welcome. “Involvement with multicultural student organizations has allowed me to create an inclusive environment for all students while learning and understanding their unique experiences,” she said.
When discussing the importance of campus involvement, Nguyen expressed the opportunities it provides for self-discovery, allowing individuals to explore personal goals, strengths and interests. Nguyen discovered her passion for mentoring underclassmen, organizing meetings and fostering effective communication among administrative and student leaders. Additionally, collaborating with a diverse team and engaging with other student organizations enhanced skills such as teamwork, collaboration, conflict resolution and commitment. Furthermore, being part of VASA strengthened her dedication to the Vietnamese and Asian American communities.
The mentor impact
Nguyen’s journey at TU culminated in her graduation in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Her interest in psychology had been nurtured since her freshman year of high school, and she was fortunate to have exceptional mentors, including Associate Professor of Psychology Lisa Cromer and Assistant Vice President for the Office for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Amanda Chastang to aid in her journey of educational self-discovery.
At TU, Nguyen spent three semesters as a research assistant in the Study of the Prevention, Adjustment & Resilience to Trauma and Adversity (SPARTA) lab led by Cromer. In this role, Nguyen gained valuable experience by assisting graduate students with their manuscripts and contributing to child nightmare treatment studies.
Reflecting on her experience, Nguyen expressed gratitude for Cromer’s kindness, her ability to create challenging and stimulating environments, and her unwavering belief in student success. Working in Cromer’s lab not only fueled Nguyen’s passion for researching historical and intergenerational trauma within the Vietnamese American community but also instilled a sense of confidence in her research abilities.
Meanwhile, Nguyen grew her DEI advocacy under Chastang’s guidance. Nguyen commended Chastang for her consistent support and supervision of not only VASA but all multicultural/DEI organizations on campus. One of Nguyen’s most cherished memories at TU was attending weekly VASA meetings with her officers in the DEI office conference room. While these meetings focused on event planning and task updates, they were always filled with laughter. The bonds formed with her VASA officers have transcended graduation, resulting in enduring friendships.
VASA was awarded the 2023 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Champion Award for enhancing DEI on campus, including leading collaboration of eight multicultural organizations to win the TU Homecoming street painting competition, and within the greater community, including raising money for the nonprofit Asian Mental Health Collective and collaborating with the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Tulsa organization.
Psychology with purpose
Nguyen’s profound passion revolves around understanding mental disorders, studying behavioral theories, and, most importantly, helping others gain self-understanding. “Studying the functions and behaviors of the human mind has become the sole focus of my career. The transformation I have experienced from the power of therapeutic relationships, both professionally and socially, has motivated me to invest myself in becoming a psychology professor and clinical/community psychologist,” she said.
Through her involvement in student-led multicultural groups and intellectually stimulating labs at TU, Nguyen’s focus has shifted toward a culturally enriching purpose. She expressed her desire to “assist Vietnamese American youth by conducting research that allows [her] to provide adequate therapy and mental health resources.”
Working with SPARTA exposed Nguyen, a second-generation Vietnamese American, to the profound impact of ancestral history, inspiring her to identify her true passion within the vast realm of psychology. “I have come to recognize how reflecting on my childhood, overcoming unique historical and intergenerational traumas, and understanding my cultural identity have enhanced my life. This realization has motivated me to become an educator and advocate for the Vietnamese community,” she said.
Nguyen eagerly anticipates applying the knowledge and experiences gained at TU to her future. She expressed her intention to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology and specialize in mental health issues facing Asian Americans and Vietnamese Americans.
While books and classes are undoubtedly important aspects of a student’s experience, there is much to be gained from student organizations. They provide an incredible opportunity to meet new people, develop social skills, connect with a supportive community, and, above all, have fun! “My most memorable experiences during undergrad were all student organization-related memories,” Nguyen said. “Because of my passionate efforts to enhance the campus DEI/multicultural community through VASA, I wanted to bring those same efforts to better my Tulsa community. … Currently, I am the social media chair for APIDA Tulsa, and I am in charge of creating/posting graphics and managing the social media pages.”
Do you want to build friendships, connections and memories that last a lifetime? Get started with your student organization journey today by visiting utulsa.edu/student-organizations/ to find your fit!