Nguyen Draws on Experience to Start Repairing Education Inequities - Higher Education
Higher Education News and Jobs

Nguyen Draws on Experience to Start Repairing Education Inequities

Email


by Katti Gray


As chief investigator on a recently won $5 million research project, Dr. Thai-Huy Nguyen, partly, will draw from his biography as a boy whose family had been on welfare. He’ll also spotlight what he knows of academia’s failure, in some aspects, to make diversity more than a mere talking point.

“How do we recognize these struggles low-income students, but then take such a long time to address them?” asks Nguyen, a Seattle University assistant professor of student development administration.

Dr. Thai-Huy Nguyen

The multimillion-dollar National Science Foundation grant will have Nguyen collaborating with STEM faculty to explore the socioeconomic challenges to student success in STEM for roughly 200 students within a large, urban, multicampus community college district.

What are their study habits? How well do they know and access services aimed at shoring them up academically? How do they assess from whence they’ve come educationally and where they’re heading?

Those are among the questions investigators will probe concerning those students at community colleges where, broadly speaking, there are more academic failures than successes, especially among students with the least resources.

“Being poor isn’t just being poor,” Nguyen says. “You can be poor and Black, which is very different from being poor and White.”

For a handful of those studied community college students, Nguyen says he will function as a navigator, steering them through a system for which they are largely unfamiliar. Disproportionately, community college enrollees hail from families without college graduates.

“We’re trying to figure out how to improve the pathway for students who are low income,” he says.

Investigators will track them from the time they start community college through their first year at a four-year institution.

Dr. Marybeth Gasman, with whom Nguyen co-authored the forthcoming “Making Black Scientists (under contract with Harvard University Press) that emerged from a national study on HBCU student success in STEM, praises Nguyen’s tenacity.

“Thai is driven by a commitment to equity,” Gasman says. “He cares deeply about providing opportunity to all students. He conducts rigorous scholarship that is tied to practice. His teaching is hands-on and pushes students to understand the systems in society that stand in the way of a drive for equity.”

If he’s defied the proverbial, presumed odds for a kid reared on welfare and in public housing by a single mom — his Vietnam refugee parents divorced early in their American experience — that’s because his mom was pretty savvy.

“I credit her,” Nguyen says of the former school crossing guard, cafeteria worker and person checking receipts of customers leaving Costco, “with getting me a great education, finding the private school that would give me a full scholarship, that where we lived gave me access to quality high schools.”

To teaching and researching, he brings that lived experience and sensibility.

Broadly, Nguyen adds, colleges and universities are doing a better job of recognizing inequities that certain students confront before and during college. What academia has not fully faced, he says, is how disadvantaged students of every color often don’t get an equal chance in a system that’s long given well-off Whites a leg up — regardless of whether they merited such a boost.

“When you are advocating those values that are important for low-income and other disadvantaged students … you are going against centuries of advantaging White men and their own families,” Nguyen says.

RELATED ARTICLES >>
Amherst College to Use Mellon Grant to Develop Diverse Faculty As a recipient of a prestigious $500,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Amherst College will develop an initiative to identify and prepare students from underrepresented minority groups to become faculty in the humanities. The grant i...
State of the Union Address Omitted Key Concerns in Education, Experts Note President Donald Trump President Donald J. Trump delivered his first State of the Union address since taking office, calling the current era “our new American moment.” But he missed an opportunity for substantive conversation on the growing conce...
Fixing an Athletics Problem Jennifer Hunter’s career trajectory has been anything but traditional, particularly as it relates to her work with collegiate sports. A native of New Orleans, Hunter is a trained lawyer who spent two years working as an English instructor and advi...
Aligning Faith With Diversity Messiah College — a small, liberal arts Christian college located in Pennsylvania, just a few miles from Harrisburg — has always prided itself on its longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. For years, the college had a special assistan...
Semantic Tags: