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Jennifer Nguyen, middle, celebrates with her family after graduation. Nguyen put her three children through WSU while working and going to school before graduating this past December.

After 15 years and three kids, Vietnam native graduates from WSU

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 | Share

Some know her as super woman, others, crazy woman, but to her family, she’s known as mother, wife, role model and provider.

It doesn’t take much to realize Jennifer Nguyen, a mother of three and full-time employee at Hawker Beechcraft, is one of the busiest women in Wichita.

Nguyen is a native of Vietnam who graduated from Wichita State University with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering this past December. She is the fourth person in her family to get a degree from WSU. Ironically, she’s also the oldest.

“I’ll never forget my experience at WSU,” said Nguyen. “I’ll remember all of the professors and the knowledge they gave me.”

Nguyen has been working toward her undergraduate degree for about 15 years. During that time, she’s put all three of her children through college while helping her husband support their home.

“Some people who understand it, they call me ‘superwoman,' ” said Nguyen. “Some people who don’t understand it, they call me ‘crazy woman.' ”

The journey

Nguyen immigrated to the United States from Vietnam with her husband and three children in 1994. She was a registered nurse in Vietnam but the license did not transfer over. That’s why Nguyen had to pick up different manufacturing jobs in America to support her family.

By working different jobs, Nguyen and her husband were able to support their children. It was in 1996 that she decided to return to school to become a nurse.

“Jennifer is a conscientious, hard-working student,” said Vanessa Souriya-Mnirajd, associate director of Student Support Services and Nguyen’s adviser. “She works hard to achieve her goals.”
In 2001, Nguyen changed her major to engineering after realizing she didn’t have the time or money to participate in an unpaid nursing practicum. Her experiences in manufacturing laid the foundation for her interest in engineering.

Nguyen has worked for such companies as Hawker Beechcraft, Koch Industries and LSI Logic, to name a few.

“It has been pretty amazing that she has been able to complete her degree in a timely manner,” said Don Malzahn, Nguyen’s academic adviser in industrial engineering. “When she sets her sites on a goal she will accomplish it regardless of the obstacles.”

Obstacles

Nguyen overcame a tremendous amount of adversity to finally graduate with her degree. English is not her first language; she had to start college by taking classes that offered little to no credit; and she spent several years getting caught up to par on the math classes required for engineering.

“I worked very hard,” said Nguyen. “The difficulty is that English is my second language.”

Nguyen had to translate from English to Vietnamese, and then from Vietnamese to English. As a result, it took her much longer to complete her schoolwork, regardless of the class.

Transportation was also an issue. Nguyen had to take the bus to work and school.

“I had no car; I worked two part-time jobs, but I still went to school,” she said. “Now I’ve got a house and a car that I got while I was studying.”

She’s also worked third shift, second shift and first shift throughout her years at Wichita State.

The future

Nguyen will pull from her extensive aviation background to improve manufacturing processes in aircraft factories.

“I go to school, not about money, but because I want to increase my knowledge,” said Nguyen. “If I was worried about money, I wouldn’t go to school.”

She hopes to use her newfound knowledge to improve systems and cycle times, increase efficiency and improve overall manufacturing processes in the aviation industry.

“I want to contribute the knowledge from the degree I’ve earned and from the experience I’ve earned,” said Nguyen. “I want to apply new methods from what I’ve learned to change the system.”

Through it all, Nguyen has kept up her spirit of perseverance, and is a source of inspiration for anyone doubting their ability to continue or return to school.

“I want to show everyone that if I can do it, anyone can,” said Nguyen. “Anyone can go back to school if they put their mind to it.”

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Created on Wednesday, January 19, 2011; Last modified on Thursday, January 20, 2011