The PharmSci Mentor Program (PSMP) helped Jennifer Nguyen navigate her first quarter at University of California, Irvine, in the fall of 2018. Nguyen quickly transitioned from mentee to mentor and has continued in that role for the past three years.
“It was very hard to transition from high school to college,” she says. “I was a first-generation student without any siblings, and my parents immigrated from Vietnam.”
During her first quarter at UCI, she was paired with a fourth-year mentor who could answer her questions about courses, the quarter system, or any other challenges.
“It was also comforting to meet other first-year students who were going through the same thing,” Nguyen said.
During her four years at UCI, Nguyen has excelled academically while using her experience in student government and two research labs. She will earn a Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology this June and is poised to make an impact in pharmacy and public health.
An unexpected turn came midway through her time at UCI when Nguyen decided to add sociology as a second major.
“After taking a few sociology classes, it put healthcare into a wider perspective for me,” she said. “I started to realize that pharmacy isn’t just looking at biology or chemistry; we also have to look at the social factors that affect patients.
“So instead of asking, ‘Why doesn’t this drug work on this specific illness?’ you would ask, ‘Why isn’t this person able to get the same healthcare resources as other people?’ As a healthcare professional, you can’t narrowly look at care. You need to look at all the different ways patients are affected.”
That mindset has helped Nguyen excel in the research lab of Aryana Sepassi, PharmD, an assistant professor of outcomes research.
“The specific research project that we’re looking at is about health literacy,” Nguyen said, “and how Asian Americans can find, understand and use health information to make health-related decisions for themselves.”
Nguyen is also grateful that she joined the lab of Adam Kreutzer, PhD, during her first quarter at UCI.
“Two of my greatest mentors from UCI are Dr. Kreutzer and Chelsea Parrocha,” Nguyen said. “Adam is the project scientist of the research lab that I’m currently involved in. Chelsea is the grad student who I work directly under. I joined the lab in the fall of my freshman year, so they’ve been with me the entire way. I know that I can always count on them for help. Not only have they taught me how to become a scientist but also how to grow as an individual.”
When Kreutzer was asked about Nguyen’s success and development through the past four years at UCI, he said: “When Jennifer joined our lab, I was immediately impressed with her ability to quickly master different laboratory techniques. Over the course of her undergraduate career, Jennifer has continued working in our lab and has blossomed into a promising young scientist.
“Jennifer is a bright, compassionate, and dedicated student with a strong work ethic. I know that these qualities will contribute to her success in pharmacy school and beyond.”
Nguyen’s passion for science grew in high school when her grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“That is really when I became interested in how diseases affect people and how diseases progress,” she said. “Now, at UCI, I’ve been able to join a lab that looks at different therapeutic methods to solve Alzheimer’s disease.”
In talking about her late grandfather, a World II veteran and medic, Nguyen said: “I definitely think he would be proud of me. He’s always had a passion for health and treating patients.”
Stepping onto the commencement stage in June, Nguyen will have a chance to reflect on all of the memories from UCI and the family and friends who supported her on the path to graduating.
Being a mentor to younger students, Nguyen has many chances to impact their first-year experience positively.
“The biggest piece of advice is to take advantage of the resources at UCI,” she says. “There are so many people and organizations that want to help you succeed. All of the different clubs and organizations are such a great place to make friends and to help make your experience valuable and, most importantly, enjoyable.”