Today we're celebrating National Sibling Day with two of our very own Earl Woods Scholar siblings -- Jenny and Ngoc Nguyen! Growing up in Garden Grove, California, the Nguyen siblings have accomplished so much at their young age, and with their ambition and talent, there's no telling where they'll go.
With a B.A. in American literature and culture from UCLA, Jenny resides in eastern Nebraska and is a photographer and associate editor at NEBRASKAland Magazine, a wildlife conservation and outdoor life publication. An accomplished writer who's been passionate about writing since childhood, Jenny published her first book in 2015, the award-winning Hunting for Food: Guide to Harvesting, Field Dressing and Cooking Wild Game.
With a longtime love of PBS's "NOVA," Ngoc knew from a young age that he wanted to build flying machines. So, he set out to do just that. A graduate of UC San Diego, Ngoc earned a B.S. in aerospace engineering. And his childhood dream is now a reality: He currently works at Boeing as a propulsion engineer.
In a Q&A, the siblings invite us in to learn more about their relationship with one another and what it meant for them both to be Earl Woods Scholars.
Q: Share a memorable experience, whether from childhood or something more current, that you had with your sibling.
Jenny: Several years ago, Ngoc and I traveled to Australia to visit our relatives. It was the first time that we went on a long trip without our parents, and we had a great time exploring a different country together. We visited so many museums, went camping, horseback riding, ate lots of Aussie candy, and even saw wild kangaroos boxing during a hike with our cousin. One day we had nothing to do, so we rummaged through our aunt and uncle's cabinet and found "Gone with the Wind." We still laugh about having to travel all the way to Australia to finally watch the American classic. That trip strengthened our bond as brother and sister.
Ngoc: A recent memorable event was when I visited my sister for the first time in Nebraska. Did I mention she had lived there for three years or so, and this was my first visit? I know, I deserve a best brother mug. In any case, it was a great visit. She showed me around by taking me fishing/kayaking, to the zoo, and showed off her new house! I hadn't spent that much time with her since we lived together, but it made me realize how much she had grown and how amazing she is to go so far outside her comfort zone and is doing so well. It made me really proud to see how happy she is in her new life and all that she had accomplished on her own.
Q: What trait do you admire most in your sibling?
Jenny: My brother is one of the most talented people I know. I got to watch him grow up, and I'm amazed by his constant desire to learn and pick up new skills. If he puts his mind to learning something new, he'll get it done. He was always taking things apart and putting them back together again -- makes sense that he's an engineer now. But outside of playing with Legos as a toddler and taking apart household items and leaving it all around the house, which drove my mother crazy, Ngoc is one of those self-taught guys who can figure out anything. When he was in junior high, he taught himself how to use a sewing machine just because he wanted to go all out for Halloween. As a teenager, he clocked in way more hours in the kitchen than I ever did at that point. And even with zero formal training, Ngoc can hold his own in woodworking; he made me a beautiful cutting board for my birthday one year that could rival Williams-Sonoma. Ngoc is a modern-day renaissance man. He's always up to something, and his thirst for knowledge amazes me.
Ngoc: I really admire my sister's willingness to make her own path. She isn't afraid to venture off and do her own thing regardless of what anyone else tells her, because she knows what she needs to do to get there.
Q: How has your sibling inspired or motivated you to achieve your goals?
Jenny: Being the older sister, there is always that responsibility to set a good example. It was important to my parents, and it was a role that I took seriously. Ngoc needed to get good grades, he needed to get into college and he needed to get a job afterward and apply himself. We do it so our parents wouldn't have to worry about us. Although I can't take more credit than I deserve, I hope that some of Ngoc's successes had something to do with my knowing that he looked up to me.
Ngoc: I mean, did you not read how they introduced her? She's not much older than I am, but she is so accomplished. Growing up she has always been like that. She's always won awards left and right. And rightly so because she works very hard to excel at whatever she is doing. If that doesn't motivate you to do better, I'm not sure what else will.
Q: What is the best advice you've received from your sibling?
Jenny: "Don't worry. It will work out."
Ngoc: I think the best advice my sister ever gave me was something along the lines of, "Don't listen to what others think and believe in myself." And as generic and obvious as that is, it was what I needed to hear the most.
Q: What does it mean to you that your sibling is also an Earl Woods Scholar?
Jenny: I think it's a reflection of our parents' consistency in raising us, and I'm so grateful that EWSP recognized the potential that my parents and I saw in Ngoc as well. Talent and smarts is only one part of the equation to success. Being able to find people/organizations who are willing to take a chance and invest in us is equally important. Coming from a low-income family, being an Earl Woods Scholar meant that we would receive some relief from the financial burdens of attending college, as well as guidance from dedicated mentors. The program has changed my life, and I'm thankful that Ngoc was able receive the same opportunities I did.
Ngoc: Even though we may appear to be carbon copies of each other with our mannerisms and such, there are very distinct differences between us. One of which is our career paths. My sister became a writer, while I became an engineer. You'll probably notice her answers sound much better than mine because me no good with words. I'm sure we both would have ended up in these career paths eventually whether or not either of us were an Earl Woods Scholar, but there is no doubt in my mind that without the guidance of our mentors, our fellow scholars and the staff that make this amazing program work, we wouldn't be as accomplished or gotten to this point in our lives as soon as we did. I am truly thankful that we were both given an amazing opportunity to explore and expand our careers and make amazing connections on the way.
Champions of the unexpected.