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First-Gen Spotlight: Thao-Nguyen Pham

Thao-Nguyen Pham '20

In high school, I knew college was a goal for me. When I first toured Texas A&M, I realized it was the place for me because of the friendly campus environment; I also instantly pictured myself fitting in. The aggie family to me is a group of friends, advisors, and faculty that I can always reach out to regarding academics, career advice and personal issues.

I chose zoology as my major in the college of science because of the vast research conducted here at A&M. In addition to gaining knowledge from class, I wanted to see the knowledge be applied and the best outlet was conducting my own research.  Research has made me become more creative because I have to think a different way all the time. For every question asked in research I have to try various methods to
find the answer. And after every breakthrough or setback, use that time to reflect on the process. In a way, applying the knowledge I gained in the traditional classroom setting motivated me to learn more. Eventually with my undergraduate degree I want to go to vet school. I really enjoy studying animals because they represent a whole different side to us. Through learning about animals we can learn about ourselves. They also hold the key to innovative medicine.

I am proud to be a first generation college student at Texas A&M. I was born in Vietnam and at the age of four years old, I immigrated to America specifically, Houston, Texas. My parents believed it would be a better environment for me to grow up and that I would have a brighter future.

One of the core values of Texas A&M is leadership. Texas A&M has taught me to be an active participant in my life. One way I have been developing my leadership skills is mentoring freshmen. FOCUS is a freshmen learning community that exists to guide first generation freshmen students to transition into college with as much support as possible. I was part of this organization as a freshman and seeing the impact it has been on me motivated me to do the same for others.  I help mentor first generation freshmen college students with all kinds of issues. These topics range from specific issues such as how to study, balance a social life and school, to things they might forget to include like self - care such as yoga or simply including breaks throughout the day or time to eat.

The most common issue I work with my mentees about - and something I also struggled with my freshmen year - is asking for help. As a freshmen, I thought I could do everything by myself – study and find this place and that resource. This way of thinking stems from my habit to appear independent and like I know everything because I grew up with parents who relied on me to be successful. It was important for me to always look like I was holding down the fort without trouble. I think without asking for help from the beginning, I would have struggled more than I did during my freshmen year. It is important for upcoming freshmen students and their parents to know that they have a lot of support from staff, other students, and student services such as from Student Affairs, the GLBT Resource Center, and student counseling.

The key to success in college is asking for help. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. There is a saying that I use with my mentees- nothing is a stupid question, so just ask. It is smarter to ask for help before you make a mistake that could have been avoided.  This advice has pushed me to be more confident around others and I would not be where I am today without the continuous support of those around me.