Howdy! Xin chào! Bonjour! Welcome to the blueprint of my life.
Not many people can say that they’ve been an engineer since they were three years old, but I can. With countless hours of engraving knowledge into their brains, engineers are placed on a throne beside doctors and philosophers. Therefore, how was a child who couldn’t even write an engineer? Being an engineer is more than creation; it’s the process. Engineers work towards advancing prototypes that help run our world, and they often fail. Though I didn’t know at the time, the failures that shattered my prototype acted as a launchpad for me to rebuild myself upon.
At NASA, engineers utilize the Technology Readiness Level Scale to determine and track the readiness of developing technology on a scale of one through nine.
Level 1: Basic principles observed
Screeches across the fingerboard turned to solos for my elementary orchestra. Splotches on a canvas turned to art show displays. Mother heightened my ego, claiming I was “rất sáng tạo”, “very creative” in my native language of Vietnamese. Six-year-old me was a creator.
Level 2: Concept formulated
“Class, write down what you want to be when you grow up”, my optimistic teacher threw at a room of half-focused children. Noticing the light that orchestra brought to me, I roughed out “conductor”. Remembering the condescending ramble about the music industry from my parents, “architect” was forced on the sheet for safety. Nine-year-old me had aspirations.
Level 3: Proof of concept
The missing puzzle piece of assurance was for me to display my talents. “Dad, can we go to the builder's workshops at Home Depot? Mom, can I take guitar lessons?” Constantly sneaking in my own paintbrushes to coat my birdhouses with personality and beating my teacher to lessons to conquer music books; eleven-year-old me proved he wanted this.
Level 4 and 5: Validation
Survival in this field was necessary for my parents to trust my wit. Popsicle houses, reports, blueprints, piled up in shame. Architecture was nothing but anger and tears. Repeated letters from the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra stating “please audition again next year.” The light of music fell to the grave. Back to level 1.
Where now? Fifteen years spent designing myself, only to be left on a worker’s bench to collect dust. I was a bird without wings, one that lost potential and purpose. I continued to study diligently, but with no intention.
September of 2019, prior to a lesson on momentum, my teacher offered up a summer opportunity with NASA. NASA! Though I was excited, the devil on my shoulder told me I wasn’t good enough. This negativity left my body as my teacher approached and told me I could do it if I tried. Though the program was out of my comfort zone, I had nothing else to strive for, so why not?
Eight weeks of studying completely new material about aerospace engineering in addition to my normal coursework seemed intimidating until it wasn’t. Despite the piles of work, I was intuitively writing reports and my brain accepted information at lightspeed. The study of wing ratios was simple. Understanding soundwaves was second nature. I realized I had filled my toolbox up from a young age and was more prepared than expected. A light was flickering back on.
Level 6: Prototype in a relevant environment
Early 2020, my world ignites as my letter of acceptance officially named me an Aerospace Scholar! Nominated to be a systems engineer for my team during the program paralleled the experience of nervousness I felt five months before, however, this time, my confidence was immeasurable.
Though it took seventeen years, I’ve realized I’ve always been an engineer. I’ve built my prototypes, some have flown, and others have crashed, but each time, I’ve learned how to make the next one soar higher and higher through the endless sky of opportunity.
Approaching Level 9: Successful mission
To counter the taxing efforts of pursuing Level 9, I destress with several hobbies which include: leading worship, basketball, volleyball, tennis, and giving back to the village that raised me. As I reap the benefits of UT and the Forty Acres Scholars Program, I hope to one day fund a public spaceflight company with shuttles that run solely on electricity, whose purpose would be to destigmatize spaceflight and raise funds that would go towards augmenting STEM education in low income communities around the world.
Though my dreams are big, the God that leads me through it all is bigger. I am beyond electrified to step foot on the Forty Acres and leave the biggest footprint of change with my fellow classmates. Hook ‘em!
Other Academic Interests
What drew you to the Forty Acres Scholars Program?
Love. My biggest fear when applying for college was the thought of leaving my family and the community around where I had grown up. Sure, the scholarship funds my education, but it doesn’t leave it at that. It turns a student from being just a number to an overly-cared-for family member. I won’t ever know what it feels like now to enter college without colleagues. I won’t ever be afraid of whether I will be successful or not because of the vastness of networking the program offers. I won’t ever be lost in my track to getting my diploma. But I will know what it’s like to struggle through university together as one. I will know what it's like to absorb wisdom from our alumni. And lastly, I will know what it feels like to be part of the group of students changing our world. Growing my skills exponentially alongside my cohort in the short time we’ve been together thus far makes me SO excited to see what our future holds. Get ready, World. The Forty Acres Scholars Program Class of 2025 is coming.
What makes your Scholar cohort unique?
Our vulnerability with one another amazes me every day and is what makes us unique. We are fearless to reveal our struggles and differences and use such attributes to strengthen our relationships. Likewise, we are risk takers that don’t turn back from even the wildest of challenges. In technical terms, we are unique as we are the first cohort to experience meeting each other virtually before meeting each other in person.
Favorite FASP memory
Due to the cancellation of Camp Texas, 15 of the FASP scholars rented an Airbnb after our freshman retreat to get to know each other and the city of Austin a little more. It so happens that it was also my birthday that week and the FASP family surprised me with a birthday party in the Airbnb! We had a lovely grill-out and watched movies all night long. It was my first birthday without my blood-related family, but the fear of missing them was covered by the love of my FASP-related family.
What do you want prospective students to know about The University of Texas?
The University of Texas will be one of the only higher level education facilities where you will never run out of connections. It’s quite literally impossible for that to happen and it's amazing how fast those connections will be made. When you enter UT, you enter the largest, more diverse, and most loving family in the world. You won’t deal with the same struggles that other incoming freshmen deal with such as loneliness. As I begin to learn more about the University, it is revealed to me how intentional the staff and students are, and I see their hearts ready and overqualified to change the world.