By Mylynh Nguyen, Program Director
Photos courtesy of Mylynh Nguyen
Dear Friends and Families of AALEAD,
I am delighted to join the AALEAD team to serve as the new Program Director. I started in this new role on June 9th, and just within a few short days, I have had the honor of witnessing the sincere dedication of the AALEAD staff and the exuberance of our some of our youngest elementary school youth. I have also already had the great pleasure of meeting some AALEAD parents and guardians. I am excited to have the opportunity to meet many more of you in the coming weeks.
This position of Program Director attracted me for many reasons. The mission of AALEAD is very aligned with my own passion to carry out work that contributes toward social justice and improving the lives of others. In particular, I have a deep interest in programs that empower youth through education and leadership, while also allowing them to develop their own identities so that they feel more comfortable sharing knowledge and ideas among individuals of similar and of diverse backgrounds. My entire professional career has been dedicated to youth development, education, and multicultural understanding, and I am grateful for the opportunity to expand upon this through my work managing programs and teams at AALEAD.
As the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, I faced similar challenges and share in many of the same experiences of our AALEAD youth. My family arrived to the United States in 1979 as Vietnamese refugees and settled in a small suburban town in western Maryland, called Hagerstown, where my parents still currently live. Growing up in a low-income and Vietnamese-speaking household, I had to quickly adapt to the challenges of being one of very few Asian Americans living in a predominately white community. The conundrum of balancing how much I was willing to assimilate to my surrounding environment versus how much I wanted to embrace my own cultural identity was something I faced often. Early on, I learned about the value that I could contribute to the global understanding of others by sharing my family’s story, but unfortunately, I also experienced the close-mindedness of individuals who were unwilling to understand why I chose to be different. Throughout it all, I had the support of a great family and great mentors who injected me with the confidence to be proud of who I am and to continue working toward my personal goals.
The community in which I grew up had a low college-going culture, which became increasingly apparent while I was trying to navigate the college application process as a first-generation college student. Few students in my community were choosing to attend colleges and universities, but I knew that the opportunity to continue my education beyond high school would greatly benefit me and my family. My parents, having little experience with the American education system, were unable to advise me through this process, so I relied primarily on my own research and conversations with friends who came from more privileged backgrounds. Due to these struggles I personally faced with higher education equity, I knew I would eventually want to return to my home community to give back. I attended the University of Maryland, College Park which proved to be a very trans-formative experience for me, as it allowed me to more deeply investigate my own cultural heritage and learn from others. After completing my undergraduate studies, I returned to Hagerstown to serve an eight year career at the local community college where I worked with many first-generation college students to assist them in successfully completing their degrees. I taught college-level biology courses, advised students interested in STEM disciplines, and directed a pre-college program called TRIO Upward Bound. These wonderful experiences allowed me to transition my skills to a new professional opportunity at Georgetown University, where I most recently served as Assistant Director at the Center for Multicultural Equity & Access and Program Manager for the Institute for College Preparation. I worked very closely with Washington D.C. area middle and high school students to inspire interest and hope in higher education, which blends so beautifully with some of the work that I will be doing with AALEAD.
I am very excited to join the AALEAD family, and look forward to getting to know many of you through many upcoming visits to AALEAD programs. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out to me if I can support you in any way. During my free time, I enjoy going to concerts, trying new foods, exploring museums in the city, and spending time outside. In particular, I like taking part in outdoor adventures, such as hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and even hang-gliding!