Portland State senior Ha-Quyen Nguyen will graduate on June 16 with a double major in business management and human resources just a few days after she turns 21.
Nguyen is a participant in Americorp’s College Possible program in Portland for low-income, first generation students. She will finish her degree a full year ahead of the rest of her cohort. After graduation, Nguyen will work as a College Possible AmeriCorps coach to help high schoolers like her get into college.
“It’s really exciting for us to have this story come full circle,” said College Possible Director of Development and Communications Emielle Nischik, “of having our first college graduate do it in three years and then, even as a first generation student, to turn around and give back.”
College Possible coaches students starting their sophomore year of high school all the way through college graduation. According to Nischik, students must qualify for free or reduced lunch in order to participate in the program.
According to Nguyen, coaches help students practice for the ACTs, choose colleges to apply to, navigate scholarships and financial aid, and help students establish a support system in college so they are not on their own after high school graduation.
The program started in Minnesota but established a Portland branch in 2012 to reach students in east Portland. “David Douglas [High School] was our first partner school,” Nischik said, “and it was really trying to fill that need of students that come from low-income backgrounds, first generation, that need additional support.”
Nischik said College Possible serves students who are “in the academic middle,” meaning those who have a 2.0 GPA or higher and most likely wouldn’t consider college without additional support. Nguyen said coaches encourage students not to worry about paying for tuition and instead apply for their dream schools—in some cases, ivy leagues.
According to a press release, Portland’s College Possible branch “is serving 520 students from six partner high schools in east Multnomah County and serving 490 Portland students at 67 colleges and universities across the country, including 12 partner schools in Oregon.”
Nischik said the nonprofit also has a significant relationship with PSU. The university rents out office space to a College Possible coach pro bono, and currently about 100 students from the program attend PSU.
Nguyen isn’t the first in her family to go to college. Her older sister is a pharmacist, and another sister will be graduating this year with a degree in art history. However, Nguyen said her parents encouraged her to take advantage of any extra support she could get because they know how much of a difference it can make.
“We came from nothing,” she said. Nguyen, her parents and three sisters emigrated to the United States from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam when Nguyen was 5 years old. “It was my aunt who allowed us to live with her for the first three years. It was five of us in one small room.”
Some family friends expressed skepticism at Nguyen’s potentially nonlucrative decision to work for College Possible for a small stipend and her sister’s decision to graduate in art history. However, Nguyen said this criticism also “motivated [her] to do well” and take enough credits per term to qualify for a scholarship and complete her degree in three years.
Nguyen said the job is part of her long-term goal to help universities with diversity efforts and eventually become a school counselor and president of a school.
“I’m all about helping others before helping myself,” Nguyen said. “If I help someone else now, someone else is going to help me in the future.”