WSU alumni is globally recognized for community service

Nam Nguyen has contributed to community; he is first student to study across all seven continents



Immigrating to the U.S. at 15 years old sparked Nam Nguyen’s passion for community service.

JOSIAH PIKE, Evergreen Reporter

Nam Nguyen, a WSU alum in the graduating class of 2020, won this year’s Diana Award.

The award is given out to people ages 9-25 who have taken an active role in community service, Nguyen said. Established in memory of Princess Diana, it globally recognizes individuals who serve their community and create change. 

“Any contribution would make the world a better place. The biggest problem we have is humanity, so bringing an act of kindness into the world is a positive thing,” Nguyen said. “The definition of success shouldn’t be a title or money or what house they own, but helping others should be the definition of success.”

Nguyen said he is very proud of his efforts to address mental health issues and provide over 100 hours of community service.

Nguyen said his love of public service was inspired in part by his immigration to the U.S. in 2013 when he was 15 years old.

“I’m Vietnamese-American. I moved here with virtually no English,” he said. “I received tremendous support from various people, organizations and friends. Without them,  I wouldn’t be where I am right now. This really helped spark my interest in helping and serving the community.”

Nguyen chose WSU because he received scholarships and liked the community and alumni network at the university. He believes WSU had a large impact on his life, and he feels its support system has been gratifying, he said.

In addition to winning the Diana Award, Nguyen is also the first WSU student to study abroad on all seven continents, he said.

“There’s just so many things to teach you and so many things to expose you to. I thought, why not continue this study abroad journey and become the first student to study abroad in all seven continents,” he said. 

Someone who was a big help to Nguyen during his time at WSU was Dr. Christine Oakley, retired associate clinical professor, he said. She helped coordinate his journey to the other continents.

“That’s another great thing about WSU, the support. Everyone listens to your dreams and wants to give you their support,” Nguyen said. “Throughout that journey, I just kept talking with the departments and applying for scholarships.”

Oakley nominated Nguyen for this year’s Diana Award. She believed he would be a great candidate for the award since he does the type of charitable work that Princess Diana did, she said.

“He finally achieved this particular award that really shows how the youth of America can do equally important work,” Oakley said.

Oakley said she met Nguyen through the Global Learning Department around 2012-13 when she was the director. She said he had a vibrant presence when he worked with international students. 

Since Oakley has known him, Nguyen has always been interested in volunteering and community service, but has come into his own as a more outgoing person, she said.

“When I first knew him, I would describe him as very shy. The one word I would use for him was authentic,” Oakley said. “Everything he has pursued is genuine.”

Oakley was proud of his ambitious decision to study abroad on  all seven continents and felt it was a great opportunity to test his limits, she said.

“I think he would agree that he really pushed himself to get out of his comfort zone,” she said. “When you’re in a country where you don’t know the language and it’s not with a program that puts its arms around you, he has that real fearless adventure.” 

While the two have gone their separate ways, they remain in close contact with each other via  email.

“I see us as kind of lifelong friends and we will be supporting one another in any way we possibly can, so I think we have kind of a mutually caring relationship,” Oakley said. 

Nguyen said he recommends all interested students to study abroad because it is a hands-on, educational experience. 

At the moment, Nguyen is a graduate student at John Hopkins University, and he is working in the energy industry for an oil company with an interest in climate change activism, he said. He wants to “climb the ladder” in the private sector and help make the energy industry more climate-friendly. 

Nguyen said he hopes he can act as an inspiration for people to take part in community service and make a difference to the people around them.