The motivation to succeed takes many forms for students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business. For Phat Nguyen, a senior business administration major from Lincoln, Nebraska, the desire to serve others shapes his college experiences and stems from relationships with family, teachers, classmates, country and his homeland of origin, Vietnam. His vision to make a difference in other people’s lives ignites an entrepreneurial spirit looking to innovate.
“My parents brought me to America when I was 14 because they wanted me to have a better life,” said Nguyen. “I didn’t know anything about the Vietnam War but I learned about the American soldiers who tried to help. One day a recruiter from the Army called and asked if I wanted to join, and thought it sounded like a good idea. My grandfather was a lieutenant in the South Vietnamese army and I wanted to continue that tradition of serving in our family, and repay America for everything they’ve done for me personally and for Vietnam. I enlisted in the Army Reserve as a high school senior.”
Nguyen simultaneously found a love for entrepreneurship by establishing ties with the College of Business through student competitions he entered in high school. The Center for Entrepreneurship 3-2-1 Quick Pitch competition allowed him to gain an understanding of what it takes to bring a business idea to fruition.
“I pitched a different business idea four years in a row at Quick Pitch. My ideas related to helping people who don’t speak English as their first language. In high school I pitched an English center non-profit to help second language learners. My second pitch was computer repair services focusing on minority groups and my third year was interpretation services,” he said.
Knowing the difficulties he faced moving to a new country, his desire to help others in similar situations became an inspiration at college. Working with friends on campus, he established recognized student organizations (RSOs) to facilitate comradery among students.
“I’m involved in many RSOs on campus including creating a new fraternity called Asian Interest. We wanted to make an impact on campus and build Asian cultural awareness at Nebraska. I started another RSO called Asian Students Union in 2017, and we’ve grown quickly,” he said.
Through his involvement at Nebraska, Nguyen also learned the value of using his strengths to get things done. He met with Mark Pogue, executive director of the Clifton Strengths Institute at Nebraska Business, about becoming a strengths coach, and ultimately scored in the top 10 percent on an entrepreneurial assessment exam used to measure a person’s aptitude for being successful in starting new ventures.
“I studied my strengths in high school, but after I went through Army boot camp, some of them changed. I added positivity and self-assurance when I took my next strengths assessment. I see how my strengths build on the direction I want to go for a future career in the military, and my achiever strength helps me understand what I want to do in the future,” Nguyen said.
Through his entrepreneurial proclivities, Nguyen became a member of the inaugural cohort of Clifton Builders, a program for students exceling in entrepreneurial ability. Pogue saw those qualities in Nguyen’s interactions.
“One thing I recognized about Phat is the importance he places on relationships,” said Pogue. “It ties everything together including his commitment to the military. He’s always thinking about how to contribute back to society including his adopted country. You see it in his relationships he develops as a strengths coach helping other students be successful. It’s reflective of everything he does.”
Nguyen continued to broaden his horizons through a global immersion program where he studied abroad in China. There he learned more about himself, both culturally and professionally, and how to apply his strengths.
“We learned the process of business innovation when we visited companies in China. In one case, we went to a business that made elevators designed to efficiently park cars. It showed me a specific example of how to problem solve and make a positive impact on the environment. I’ve maintained connections with Chinese students and tried to help them when they came to Nebraska to study abroad,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen plans on graduating in December of 2018. His goal is to be a professional in the Army infantry and later be involved in human rights issues after his military career is completed.