Among the thousands of Arizona State University Spring Class of 2020 grads, Robert Nguyen of Gilbert has long had a love of the sciences and a history of giving back.
Nguyen, who majored in applied biological sciences at ASU Polytechnic campus, is the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts Outstanding Graduate.
“In my AP biology class my senior year of high school, it was learning about all the minute details and complex interconnections that support and allow life to exist that pulled me into this path,” said Nguyen, who majored in applied biological sciences at ASU’s Polytechnic campus as preparation for a career medicine.
He earned a 4.0 GPA and beyond his commitments to his studies, devoted a great deal of time in research and volunteering in service to help others.
Nguyen served as a student ambassador, helping with recruiting, orientation and campus visits. He was active in the Pre-Health Club, participating in many community service events, including Devils in Disguise, the Travis Mannion 9/11 Heroes Run, Relay for Life and the campus blood drives.
He was also involved in International Service Devils, contributing more than 250 hours of volunteer service in the Valley and beyond. He and fellow applied biological sciences senior Tanner Carr initiated the Polytechnic campus effort that collected more than 1,200 pairs of gently used shoes for Andre House, a house of hospitality for the homeless.
During spring breaks, Nguyen traveled abroad with International Service Devils to support community projects and youth health education in remote areas of Guatemala.
”This club opened my eyes to how we can work together to help others in need,” he said.
Over the last two years, Nguyen has been making significant research contributions working in the lab of chemistry professor Wenwei Zheng at the Polytechnic campus.
“When I first came to him, I essentially had zero background in coding or scientific research, just pure determination and an urge to dive into a research project,” Nguyen said. “He was generous enough to give me a chance to join his research group.”
The lab’s research uses computational biology to learn more about the traits, pathology and functions of Intrinsically disordered proteins, which perform important biological functions and are related to a number of neurodegenerative diseases.
“The first few months, I gruelingly learned the basics of coding, programming and the essentials of his research. I hit many roadblocks while learning and practicing,” Nguyen admitted. “He taught me patience and persistence in seemingly impossible situations. While he could have easily given me the answers to my problems, he gifted time and guidance to try countless options to find the solution on my own.
“I’ve learned that any problem that may present itself to me in the future can be worked out with patience and persistence.”
Nguyen is co-author on a manuscript about the research project, which stands to disrupt current thought on these proteins within the biophysics community.
“To some, graduating from college is about the diploma, but to me, it’s more about the knowledge and mindset that I developed. I’ve learned how to be more critical in my thought process. This is a superior way of tackling any problems that come my way,” he said.
“I also appreciate the support system that this school has given me. From day one, the academic advisers set me up for success and kept me on track to graduate. Later on, countless professors and instructors at Poly showed they cared for me as a student and wanted to see me succeed,” Nguygen said. “I graduate knowing that I have a network of brilliant people who believe in me and my abilities to become successful and who are willing to offer assistance if needed.”
Asked why he chose ASU, he replied, “My father graduated with his bachelor’s from ASU. I still remember seeing a photo of myself, most likely only a few years old at the time, being held in my father’s hands at his graduation. He has always supported and pushed me academically, so I wanted to graduate from ASU, just like he did, and continue a proud ASU heritage.
“I chose to be based at the Polytechnic campus because it was incomparably unique to any other campus, in my eyes. When I first visited the campus, there were so many things that caught my attention: from the beautiful scenery to the blissfully quiet paths. But the main thing that attracted me and has kept me to this day is the people. With the great student-to-instructor/staff ratio and the friends that I hold dear, I think that the Polytechnic campus has given me relationships that will last a lifetime.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
“Just take a minute to yourself and breathe! As a student, I almost always felt that I wasn’t doing enough and that I was in a crunch for time. It would feel like I was under a constant weight that wasn’t going anywhere.
“It’s more than okay to rest your mind for a bit when you’re overwhelmed. Distract yourself by spending quality time with friends and family and by remembering what you’re truly working toward.”
Maureen Roen is manager of creative services for ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.