Freshman’s community service recognized with reward


Charlotte Reilly

University of Nebraska at Omaha sophomore Jimmy Nguyen has been selected as a Newman Civic Fellow, a national award recognizing students’ dedication to community service.

Nguyen is one of 273 students to receive the award.

Nguyen was nominated by Constance Sorensen-Birk. So-rensen-Birk is his mentor for Project Achieve, a federally funded pro-gram that assists first generation college students, low income students and students with disabilities.

“Jimmy is tireless in his community work,” Sorensen-Birk said. “He is a leader in all of his college service groups.”

Nguyen was interviewed by staff at the Community Engagement Center and then selected by Chancellor John Christensen to represent UNO as its nominee.

He received an email at the end of March stating he was selected for the award.

“I was surprised and shocked but very happy,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen started volunteering be-cause he wanted to break social barriers and teach inclusiveness.

“From when I was born to when I was five I didn’t know any English,” Nguyen said. “My household spoke strictly Vietnamese. Kindergarten was very difficult for me. I didn’t understand how to talk to anybody. I didn’t know what was going on. I could read shapes and numbers, but communicating was very difficult.”

It was hard for Nguyen to make friends throughout elementary and middle school because of social barriers

“Through community service, I break down the social barrier that held me back once,” Nguyen said. “You can’t always change the bad that is happening now. You can’t change people’s opinions overnight. What you can do is instill the morals and qualities in the next generation.”

Nguyen is a biology major with a double minor in chemistry and medical humanities. He is taking the pre-pharmacy track at UNO. He also helps take care of his grandmother and girlfriend who both have cancer.

Still, he finds time to volunteer.

Nguyen is on student government, helped an international student get a translation of the Maverick Payment Plan, is working on a mural project for the library, is part of Students Against Hunger and helped found the South Sioux Student Association.

The South Sioux Student Association started with 14 members last year but has increased to about 50 members.

“I’m pretty proud of us because we went from a small club to an actual organization,” Nguyen said.

He credits his mentors, including Sorensen-Birk for his love of community service.

“You need to find the right people to be around to inspire you to volunteer,” Nguyen said. “My mentors have encouraged me and connected with me on a personal level.”

Sorensen-Birk said Nguyen is the one who has inspired her.

“Jimmy has changed my life. What he is doing is incredible and inspiring. If a very young man with all these burdens can do that, I know I can do more,” Sorensen-Birk said. “A lot of people think of community service as an event, but it’s clear to me that it is integrated into his life.”

Sorensen-Birk said volunteering gives students a new perspective, and she hopes other students follow Nguyen’s example of service.

“When you volunteer, you reach an understanding that one person can make a difference in the world,” Sorensen-Birk said. “Just one day of work changes something for somebody That’s pretty empowering.”