First generation student finds success at UNO

Photo courtesy Nam Nguyen

Jose Rodriguez

Life in college seems straightforward to most. Students choose a major, select classes and pay for them either with their own money or with the help of scholarships and financial aid. However, depending on the background of each student, there are different challenges to face and routes to take.

UNO student Nam Nguyen is one of those students facing added challenges, or as he said, “Running a race that never ends.”

Nguyen is a junior biology student at UNO and he hopes to complete his major by the next fall semester. Nguyen has been interested in how the body works since he was younger and recalls watching series like “Bones” and wondering about the terminology characters used when searching for crime conclusions. Nguyen is from Omaha, Nebraska and speaks Vietnamese and English. His parents are from Vietnam and he is the second son out of five children and is also a first-generation student.

“(Nguyen) Is very determined and motivated to complete his education and continue that education beyond the undergraduate bachelor degree level,” said Project Achieve advisor Cindy Siadek.

This semester, Nguyen is taking 15 credits and hopes to finish his degree next year. After graduating, Nguyen says he is interested in entering graduate school, particularly in the physician’s assistant program. He first needs to take some additional required courses and prepare for the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test.

Nguyen works at his family salon when he is not at school to pay for his everyday expenses. This also helps him pay for school in combination with financial aid he receives.

Though Nguyen is thriving in his classes now, it was not always so easy.

“The number one difficulty I found which affected me personally was the lack of information when I first started. How to take care of financial aid, how to pick a program that you will actually like, how to balance studying for courses while taking care of everything else,” Nguyen said.

Siadek explained that because parents of first-generation students never had such college experience, they don’t know the amount of effort and work college requires in order for a student to succeed.

“They have so many responsibilities at home, typically, that it is a lot of juggling to balance school work and family responsibilities,” Siadek said.

One person who has inspired Nguyen’s drive for success is his father.

“Looking back at his life and experiences and the struggles he had to endure and the sacrifices he had to make, I reflect upon that to find the strength to do my best and succeed,” Nguyen said.

Project Achieve, which he joined this semester, is a program that has also helped him to maintain his motivation through hosted workshops, volunteering opportunities and school resources to help him with his education.

Through Project Achieve and other school programs, Nguyen hopes he can inspire younger students to work hard and be successful.

“The journey is hard. The hours are long. It may seem easier to just give up at times,” Nguyen said. “Fight the struggle to deny yourself your full potential.”