Caroline P. Nguyen

Aerospace Engineering

When I came to the United States fifteen years ago, I knew very little English. In fact, the only complete sentence I could say was "my name is .... " Due to political reasons, I was forced to leave my country, Vietnam , before I completed junior high school. However, after enrolling in high school in America, I realized that it would take a miracle for me to earn a high school diploma. The difficulties were compounded by the fact that I didn't know the language and I had to assimilate a completely new culture in a fast pace. Because of the English handicap, math was the only thing that kept me in school, since it was taught in the universal language of numbers. Even though I struggled with word proble ms, I continued taking up to three math classes per semester to compensate for other classes. My first biology class was an unforgettable experience; most of my biology reports were prepared partly in English and partly in my language. I waved my hands to make conversation with other students during laboratory hours.

After graduation from high school as an honor student , I went to college to fulfill my parents' wishes. The extra math I had taken in high school allowed me to skip three semesters of c ollege-level calculus . However, language difficulties continued to exert greater pressure on me as I advanced toward a college degree. To cope, I recorded most of the lectures, replaying them until I could understand them

I graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a BS degree in Chemical Engineering, and decided to continue my education so I could fulfill my dream of becoming a technical consultant for development firms. I entered the masters program at the University of Washington at Seatle, earning an MS degree in Chemical Engineering. To support my self in college, I worked as a research assistant, earning a second background in Electrical Engineering.

Now I am an Aerospace Engineer. My specialty is energy storage systems for spacecraft and missiles. I've also wo rked on hazardous-waste reduction and pollution-prevention projects, replacing certain environmentally-threatening chemicals currently used in the aerospace industry. My achievements include a Hubble Space Telescope Achievement award, an inclusion in the 18th Edition of American Men & Women of Science, and a National ART award.

My English is much better than it was 15 years ago. I really enjoy learning and continue to take classes, which have earned me certificates in areas such as statistic and system engineering. With all the technology in today's society, like Lewis Carroll (a famous writer) said, "It takes all the running (learning) you can do , to keep in the same place."

Excerpt from the book She Does Math! by Marla Parker
Parker, Marla; She Does Math!; Washington, D.C.; The Mathematical Association of America; 1995