We Love NASA Scientist QuynhGiao Nguyen’s Immigrant Survival Story

Nguyen arrived in America at age 7 speaking no English, and faced bias and bullying. At age 19, she got her first job at NASA.

By Channing Kennedy Feb 27, 2012

Via the excellent Women@NASA series comes this profile of materials scientist QuynhGiao Nguyen. Nguyen’s story is pretty remarkable. While it’s well-documented that women are pushed away from science from the toy aisle onward, Nguyen faced additional barriers — not just as a woman of color, but as an immigrant kid who arrived in an American public school at the age of 7, speaking no English.

"Lakewood Public School System was a huge influence in my life," says Nguyen in the video. "They really nurtured me and they spent the time in my reading and my writing and my pronunciation skills."

"I had just as many challenges as any typical American kid would have, and maybe a little bit more. I was sometimes bullied. I was sometimes pushed around. I was told to go back to my own country or people would make fun of my name. I wanted to change my name to Lisa Smith for the longest time. And it wasn’t until I became a US citizen at age eighteen — I had the legal right to change my name at that point in time, and I decided, ‘You know, I’m okay with being QuynhGiao Nguyen. It’s okay.’"

A year later at age 19, Nguyen was offered her first position at NASA as a research intern, and the rest is history (and a lot of hard work). Her passion for her work is infectious, and it’s quite the argument for comprehensive multilingual education in public schools — and for ensuring that women of color have the support they need to counter bias and succeed on their own terms.

Thanks to NASA for understanding the power of immigrant women of color as role models, and thanks to the SPACE SHARES Tumblr for bringing this video to our attention!

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