Today we feature Catherine Nguyen, a leader at Rowan University. From Washington Township, NJ (Morris County), Catherine majors in Biological Sciences and minors in Chemistry, Sociology and Thomas Bantivoglio Honors Concentration. She talks about her experience with the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) and overall experience as a student leader.
This story is part of a series spotlighting campus leaders during Women’s History Month.
What is your role in your organization?
I am the cofounder and current treasurer of the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) at Rowan. This organization aims to unite people to celebrate Vietnamese culture through cultural activities, education and friendship. This year, as we improvised ways to continue our cultural events through an online platform, we also found ways to use our background and organization in social causes. We raised money for Black Lives Matter movement, floods in Vietnam, and awareness against Asian American Pacific Islander hate crimes, which were fundraisers I organized.
In addition, previous executive board positions I’ve held were president (2018-2019) and vice president (2019-2020), both of which I initiated the planning process of events and meetings. During these years, I organized our Anh Chi Em program, which is a way for underclassmen to be paired with upperclassmen who can serve as a mentor and companion.
What have you learned in your role as a leader?
Along with learning to delegate tasks and organize events, I’ve also learned to support the ideas of others by finding ways for their ideas to be integrated with the club’s mission. I believe that an organization can only improve if there are many modes of ideas coming together. In addition, I learned to be receptive to criticism and find ways to improve myself to improve the organization.
What’s your favorite memory as a leader or at Rowan in general?
My favorite memory is the sense of community that was created in the advent of this organization. I have seen and been a part of so many friendships that have come out of this club since it serves as a safe place for people to be themselves. Something so meaningful for me is when members say that they have found their closest friends through VSA.
We also found a sense of community and friendship by collaborating with other cultural clubs on campus, like Rowan University Phillipine American Coalition (RUPAC), and other VSAs within the Northeast region. These friendships are ones that I will always cherish.
Who inspires you and why?
My mom has always been a huge inspiration for me. From immigrating from Vietnam and reestablishing her life in America, my mom has shown me such strength and courage. In everything she does, she exudes enthusiasm and hard-work. She has taught me that I can accomplish anything that I put my mind to. And with everyone she comes in contact with, she treats them with such care and kindness. If I grow up to be the woman that she is, I will have achieved my life goal.
In the public realm, Amanda Ngoc Nguyen has been a huge inspiration for me as of lately. As a civil rights activist, she has used her background and experience to empathize and amplify the voices of people of marginalized backgrounds. She has also played an essential role in putting attention on the hate crimes of Asian American Pacific Islanders in mainstream media. I hope to use my career one day to represent those of marginalized backgrounds.
What’s the most significant barrier to women today?
Although progress has been made within the past few decades, microaggressions and stereotypes against women still persist. Women still have to work twice as hard just to establish they’re standing against their male counterparts. If we want a society to progress, we must support the efforts of all people. It is especially important that women uplift other women as well.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders?
My advice to the next generation of leaders is that if you have an idea in mind, don’t be afraid to put it in fruition. The organization, service, product, etc. that you make has the potential to be so helpful for so many people. The hardest part is getting started. Along the way, find ways to reach out to others for help if you need it; there is something special about vulnerability of asking for help. You never know the people that you will come in contact with and how much they can impact your life. Lastly, don’t forget to pay it forward with subsequent generations as well by helping them foster their ideas into action.
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