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Fulbright Scholarship Brings Academics, Family Heritage Full Circle for Anh Pham '20

May 16, 2024
By Archbishop Carroll High School

Anh Pham '20 is ready to write the next chapter in a story that began decades ago and thousands of miles away.

This August, Anh will travel to Vietnam for a year to teach English as a second language after winning a Fulbright Scholarship during her final year studying education, English, and Spanish at the University of Dayton.  The opportunity to teach while exploring her cultural heritage is a dream come true for Anh.

According to the Department of State, approximately 2,000 students earn Fulbright Scholarships each year.  Anh began the highly competitive application process after learning about Fulbright through the honors program during her second year in college.  Encouragement from UD’s Director of National Competitive Scholarships Dr. Laura Cotton Howell, Honors Program Coordinator Courtney Kingston, and fellow Carroll alum and Flyer Philip Cicero '20 pushed Anh to begin the highly competitive application process in October 2023.

Anh Pham and Carroll teacher Katie Nielsen

One of Anh’s biggest supporters throughout the process was one of her Spanish teachers at Archbishop Carroll High School, Katie Nielsen.  As a Fulbright alumna who taught English in South America from 2008-2009, Nielsen not only offered insight and wisdom on the technical aspects of the application process, but provided mentorship and comfort through rough spots on Anh’s road.  They discussed Nielsen’s Fulbright experience and “everything under the sun” during visits at her home, Anh recalls. Resume advice, application material review, and interview practice were always part of their conversations, but the two always found time to have personal conversations and made their friendship a priority.

When Anh found out she was an alternate for the Fulbright Program, Nielsen received one of the first phone calls and provided a voice of comfort.  She also was one of the first to learn that Anh had been promoted to Fulbright Scholar, and they celebrated the news a day later with breakfast along with Anh's manager manager at her part-time job and letter of recommendation writer Lynsey Logsdon.

Sharing the news with her parents was something Anh knew she had to do in person, however.

Her parents “freaked out” when Anh told them she would travel to their home country of Vietnam to teach.  Her father, Tuan, came to America as a refugee during the Vietnam War when he was 20 years old and settled in Chicago.  Her mother, Thuy, was sponsored and arrived in Colorado at the age of 18.  The couple met through a mutual friend, moved to Dayton, married, and raised two children – Anh and her younger sister, Cindy.  Anh’s parents planned to make their first visit to Vietnam before they had children, but canceled their plans when they found out they would soon welcome their first child.

As small business owners, the monetary support of the Fulbright Scholarship will allow Anh’s parents to make the most of their first visit home since the early 1990s.

“I’m just so grateful for this financial support because my parents don’t have to worry about me,” Anh said.  "They’ll be able to spend their resources on themselves.  Everything they’ve done has been for me and my sister.  Education has always been number one in life for their family, and they sacrificed everything for that."

Anh with Dr. Kirsten Mendoza and Dr. David Fine

A career in education has been one of Anh’s goals for many years, and one that countless educations have inspired along the way.  She credits her teachers at St. Peter School in Huber Heights for providing a solid educational foundation during her time in grade school.  UD’s Dr. David Fine, Dr. Kirsten Mendoza, and Dr. Rachel Collopy supported Anh through medical issues she overcame during her Fulbright application process.  Her relationship with Dr. Mendoza, Anh’s first Asian American teacher at any level, has a unique meaning.  “It’s so important for people to have teachers and people they can identify with, and she was one of the first ones for me.”

Anh has already started planning her future pursuing a career in education, and the connections she has built in her journey so far at Carroll and UD are playing an important role in Anh’s future as a teacher. Carroll alumni and UD faculty members Jackie (Marshall) Arnold ‘89 and Peggy (Muick) Brun ‘79 have provided guidance on how to move forward into grad school when Anh returns from Vietnam in 2025.  She hopes to earn a master’s degree at UD and is considering early childhood education and teaching English as a foreign language.

“I want to be able to be someone to provide access to education in the way my parents did for me.”

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