Ritenour Graduate Marilyn Nguyen Excels at Lehigh University
As a first-generation college student at Lehigh University, Marilyn Nguyen’s story of perseverance, doubt and success mirrors that of many Ritenour graduates.
Since graduating from Ritenour High School (RHS) in 2016, Nguyen has already made a name for herself at Lehigh University (LU) in Bethlehem, Pa. She is part of the LU Philharmonic Orchestra, Global Citizenship program and Student Senate, and she runs No Lost Generation, a club that advocates and fundraises for refugees. She was involved in the Prison Project, through which she tutored inmates studying for their GED and has had the opportunity to go to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City and do philanthropic work in three different countries. Nguyen says her scholarship has made all of these opportunities possible, and she encourages current RHS students who are contemplating college to look into colleges that meet full-need.
In high school, Nguyen was an excellent student who was involved in extracurricular activities. Like many of her first generation peers whose parents are unfamiliar with the college application process or whose first language is not English, she relied on her college counselor Julie Kampschroeder to guide her decision-making.
“Ms. K. (Kampschroeder) was honestly the best thing that could have happened to me, because I wouldn’t have gone to Lehigh or all these countries if it weren’t for her guidance,” said Nguyen.
Nguyen’s original plan was to stay close to home and family, but she kept an open mind at Kampschroeder’s urging. When she was accepted to Lehigh and got the opportunity to stay on campus for an all-expenses paid weekend with current students, she knew she had a big decision to make.
“At first I hated it. It was cold, it snowed that weekend, it was dark, all the trees were dead and the entire campus just looked gray. Also, I couldn’t tell if there was a lot of diversity or not, but I didn’t feel comfortable,” said Nguyen. “But after I came back and I considered all the schools I’d been accepted to, I realized that Lehigh had the most opportunities and gave me the most financial aid out of all the schools I was accepted to...I just thought, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’”
Making the decision to travel so far from friends and family for college was difficult. The toughest person to convince was her mom.
“My mom was very upset at Ms. Kampschroeder, simply because she wanted me to stay near home like I had originally planned. And suddenly I’m changing my plans to go to a state that I’d never been to that’s extremely far away, so I’d have to fly home every summer. She was very uncomfortable… but I decided I was going to push for it, and it was the best decision ever!”
In a tearful reunion with her college counselor and mother this summer, Nguyen translated from Vietnamese for her mom how grateful she is to Kampschroeder for everything she did to help her daughter along the way, and for giving her amazing opportunities. Her advice to other parents is to trust the teachers and counselors who are there to help, not to worry, and that everything will work out in the end.
Nguyen’s volunteer experiences in other countries have helped shape her in ways she never imagined. Her first volunteer trip was to Antigua and Barbuda the summer after her freshman year. As a member of the LU Global Citizenship program, she also had the opportunity to volunteer in Peru, South America, at no cost.
Most recently, she spent six weeks in Uganda in Africa through the Iacocca International Internship Program. There, her work focused primarily on business and microfinance, where she learned about village savings loans that boost the economy and support business in one of the poorest areas of the country.
Although Nguyen is unsure about what she wants to pursue professionally after college, her experiences at school and abroad have strengthened her resolve to help people in whatever profession she chooses. When it comes to advice for current high school students and parents, she had a few words of wisdom she wanted to share.
Advice for current Ritenour High School students for selecting and getting into college:
“ I think that being involved heavily in one or two things that you are interested in will definitely help you, in addition to working hard on your academic performance. This will play a big role in your financial aid and acceptance to college. You don't need a perfect 4.0, but showing that you're an active and well-rounded person is important. In terms of picking a school, work very closely with Ms. Kampschroeder. She is amazing and can help you look at schools that would be up your alley. A lot of schools meet full financial need, as well, so it can actually be more affordable going to an expensive school if they meet your need! Most importantly though, pick a school you love and can feel comfortable in. Consider all the factors.”
Advice about adjusting to college life:
“It may seem tough at first. I usually find that the first year of school work and finding friends is the hardest thing to handle, but when you reach out to people in your classes, get involved in an activity or two (not too much because it may be overwhelming --> Academics first), you can meet people. You realize that you can meet up with your friends whenever you want but you also learn how to manage your school and work on top of it. Sometimes, you may be in an environment where you feel like you cannot fit in, maybe because of demographics or socioeconomic status or something else. Just know that there are so many people on a school's campus that there is probably someone feeling the same way. Reach out to people and break through your fear!”
Advice for parents who may not want their student to go out of state for school:
“It is scary for your child to go out-of-state, but remember that it could change their life for the better. My mother was very scared and against my decision to go out-of-state initially, but after I got settled in, I grew so much more than she could imagine and got the opportunity to do things that I never would have, had I settled for an in-state school. Going away from family teaches you a lot about life.”