Nam Nguyen is living out his American dream and helping others do the same.
The recent Washington State University graduate’s efforts to make societal change were recognized last month when he received The Diana Award, honoring young people for their social action or humanitarian work. The honor is named after Diana, Princess of Wales.
As a teenager, Nguyen immigrated from Vietnam with his mother and sister in hopes of finding better opportunities.
“My family was just so poor over there,” Nguyen said. “This is the best way to transform my life.”
The family arrived in Kent in 2013 when Nguyen was 16 and barely spoke a word of English. While learning a new language, Nguyen graduated from high school and began applying to colleges.
He ended up at WSU, where he planned to study chemistry as a pre-med student but discovered a passion for business and travel.
He studied abroad in Ireland and had a “fabulous” time, he said. That experience launched a slew of study abroad programs for Nguyen, who eventually studied abroad on every continent.
His journey to becoming the first WSU student to study abroad on every continent was the subject of a TedTalk he gave in 2019 in Hanoi.
Feeling blessed with all his new experience, Nguyen ramped up his volunteering efforts, working the crisis text-line, teaching English as a second language and then during COVID-19 delivering meals and learning materials to students and the elderly.
In tandem with his work on the crisis line, Nguyen and two other students developed a device called the MeditationOrb that aids in meditation by tracking respiration and heart rate through vibration patterns, along with producing peaceful audio and light sequences.
His drive to volunteer, Nguyen said, comes from a desire to “pay forward the blessings and support that I received” when immigrating to the United States.
He also was a part of the virtual student federal service and interned with both the U.S. State Department and NASA.
After graduating from WSU in 2020, Nguyen began working as a business analyst for BP. He’s also studying educational technology at Johns Hopkins University.
All of that led to Christine Oakley, a retired WSU professor, nominating Nguyen for the Diana award, which he received in July as one of 20 young Americans honored.
For Nguyen, receiving the award was not only an “honor and privilege” but a heartening moment that gave him renewed energy in his efforts to improve the world around him.
“I think an award is not necessarily the end of a journey, it’s the being of the journey,” Nguyen said. “It’s a sort of refueling myself to continue working on other stuff to make the world a better place.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.