As a first-generation college student, Haison Nguyen ’23 is a pure example of how drive, hard work and passion can reconstruct one’s path and lead to a promising future. As a sophomore, Nguyen already has left his footprint at St. Thomas by contributing toward addressing sustainability and by being a changemaking leader as the vice president of public relations for the Undergraduate Student Government.
Nguyen is a marketing major at the University of St. Thomas and hopes to pursue a career in public relations. This past winter, he was involved in Giving Hearts Day, a 24-hour fundraising event in North Dakota and Minnesota. Looking for a way to give back to his Fargo roots while living in the Twin Cities, Nguyen saw this opportunity as the perfect way to volunteer.
With a smile, Nguyen said he wants to work for a company that is impactful in its community and that exudes fun, since he believes everyone should enjoy their job.
Here are some highlights from our conversation.
How did you first get involved in Giving Hearts Day? Tell us what the project involved and about being selected for the inaugural Digital Impact Fellowship.
I was involved with a club called Philanthropy in Youth and every single year we were given $5,000 to allocate to nonprofits around Fargo, North Dakota. Giving Hearts Day also gives out money to nonprofits and organizations around the Fargo-Moorhead area and I just slowly learned more about that.
I moved to St. Paul and I received an email from one of my mentors, who thought that I would be interested in the opportunity. The more that she described the program to me, the more I was intrigued. Just to know that I would be paired up with a nonprofit based off of my interest and being able to help them was definitely something that I was all for. It was their inaugural fellowship and the email said they were in need of a digital impact fellow. I thought it was a great fit because I’m currently a marketing major and [I knew] it would give me a lot of experience. Also, it was an opportunity to give back to my community in Fargo, so I applied.
I was lucky enough to be given a fellowship position and I was joined alongside nine other fellows ranging from freshmen in high school to seniors in college. It was a good opportunity for us to see different perspectives. That whole time we were able to learn more about Giving Hearts. We were connected with the Dakota Medical Foundation, which I believe started Giving Hearts Day and that’s how I got really involved with Giving Hearts Day this year.
[We started] Jan. 13 and we ended on Feb. 25. It was insightful to see what helping alongside the nonprofit was instead of just choosing nonprofits to donate to. I found the whole process really rewarding.
Giving Hearts Day raised around $21 million nationally in that 24-hour period; my nonprofit received $18,000 of that within those 24 hours.
Tell me about your work for the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) at St. Thomas.
I currently serve as the vice president of public relations. I’m on the executive board to help with marketing tactics, trying to see how we can communicate and be transparent to students. I help get our message out regarding our goals, and I help achieve them.
Tell me about a time when you were able to see your work create meaningful change.
Last semester, we started a sustainability no waste resolution. This resolution was one thing that we all really were passionate about and collectively worked really hard on as an executive board, but also as the general counsel.
The sustainability board, run by Ariana Porcello, did a wonderful job creating and working hard on this resolution. We tried our best to market it and this semester we’ve noticed a big change on campus with composting bins. The dining halls used to use a lot of plastic. Now when I go in there, sandwiches are wrapped up in compostable paper, and more compostable and recyclable material is being used. Just going back and seeing the change in front of my eyes, [I felt] like I was a big part of that change and that I helped make that impact here at St. Thomas. Knowing that we’re going toward a sustainable future is definitely something that we’re all really proud of and something that feels rewarding at the end of the day after working so hard for it.
What has been a highlight for you in this job?
I served as the freshman class president last year, so I got a little of what it’s like to be a campus leader and to work alongside other great leaders. But this year, being able to be a part of the executive board, I’ve been able to see a big impact. My focus isn’t just on the freshmen anymore; it expanded to be on the whole school and on the administration. It was very insightful to communicate with the administration and be able to connect with them directly to see what changed here, how we can communicate to students, and to make sure that all of our goals are transparent.
Keeping everyone accountable to their goals and making sure that we hit those benchmarks, but also the experience, connections and relationships I’ve been able to develop [have been] a really big highlight for me. I’ve grown to love the USG board members and everyone, including the advisers [who are] like second and third moms to all of us. They really care for us. Also, I like the marketing side of it. I’ve gotten a lot of experience in that.
What is your dream job?
My dream job is to be a director of public relations. The company that I’m essentially looking for is some place that really does have a big impact on their community. [A company that is] able to emphasize that, but also cares about their employees and just knows how to home in on having fun while doing their job because I feel like one should be able to enjoy their job. That’s how you keep a sustainable career.
My dream goal is also to provide that fun environment, but also [create] a caring community culture.
What has been your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is being able to be here at the University of St Thomas. I’m a first-generation student, so just seeing the results of all my mom’s sacrifices and hard work makes me really proud. [I am] happy to know that I’m continuing our family [legacy], but also [am] able to push us forward and create a successful life for myself and for the rest of my family in the future.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
I feel that a lot of people inspire me in general, but some of the people, my mom included, inspire me to be able to work hard and know when it’s time to [make] sacrifices and gain from them in the future.
My friends inspire me to be a better person every single day and to have a positive light in any situation. They always pep talk me. They always cheer me up.
Some past mentors and teachers [have] really taught me the importance and the inspiration behind education. Being able to teach others and by [working] hard to be able to share with others [their] experiences definitely make[s] an impact. A lot of people inspire me in different ways, and I try my best to take those little things from them and apply it to myself.