Nancy Ngo graduated with a Masters of Public Health in May 2022 and will be starting coursework at the UofL Brandeis School of Law in August 2022.
1. Describe your educational background (include undergrad):
My grade school education derived from St. Thomas More Catholic School, Bowen Elementary, Stopher Elementary, Meyzeek Middle School, and duPont Manual High School. As an undergraduate at the University of Louisville, I studied psychology with a focus in natural sciences with the intentions of pursuing medical school. Eventually, I became enamored with a different aspect of healthcare: policy, law, and advocacy. Thus, I pursued an MPH with a concentration in Health Policy at UofL. From there, I was given many opportunities to learn with like-minded individuals about health disparities and inequities on a local, state, and national level. I further was able to apply my knowledge with the Center for Health Equity (CHE), a division of Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness. After graduation from the MPH program, I will be pursuing my Juris Doctorate from the University of Louisville to learn about how I can best advocate for disenfranchised communities within our region.
2. What brought you to the University of Louisville?
I was born and raised in Louisville, KY, so the University of Louisville has always had a special place in my heart. Although I was blessed with multiple offers from different universities for undergraduate, UofL always felt like home. Furthermore, with their wonderful programs, caring professors, and generous financial aid support, the University of Louisville was a no-brainer decision.
3. What made you go into this field of study?
I grew up wanting to become a physician. However, during my senior year of undergraduate studies,I found myself fascinated with seminar courses such as Medical Ethics, Social Problems, and 21st Century Families that exposed me to healthcare beyond traditional patient triage, diagnosis, and treatment. It was during these class discussions that I began to understand exactly how many others in our country and around the world suffer from similar healthcare experiences like my family’s. It motivated me to pursue higher education in public health to advocate for access to quality healthcare. After studying at the School of Public Health and interning at CHE, I learned that the health outcomes I studied were not solely related to lack of funding for hospitals nor adequate training for healthcare professionals. More immediately, it is rooted in inequities within housing, employment, and other social structures. Currently, community leaders have a myriad of possibilities, but most of them could only provide short-term relief while maintaining the current systems of power. It is through an overhaul of the current healthcare system and a fundamental change within the legal system that we can reach an improved level of community health. I hope to be the voice that elevates the cries for help from underserved communities and work towards health equity. A juris doctorate was the most logical step to achieve my goals.
4. Awards and Publications:
University of Louisville Graduate Dean’s Citation (grad school)
Kentucky Derby Festival Derby Queen (grad school)
Psychology Departmental Honors (undergrad thesis)
Alpha Epsilon Pre-Health Honor Society President (undergrad)
Phi Delta Epsilon Pre-Medical Fraternity Vice President of Programming (undergrad)
Dean’s List (undergrad)
Trustee’s Scholarship Recipient (undergrad)
National Merit Finalist (high school)
5. How do you think this advanced degree will change your role in society?
I have always been proud of being a Vietnamese American woman. I have always been proud of the food, the language, and the traditions that I practiced with my parents. Any time that a classmate or teacher commented on how smooth and silky my hair was or that it was natural that I was good at math and science courses, I took these as compliments. After all, I did work hard for those achievements. Thus, when I reflected on these memories later, it was difficult to accept that I was blind to the racism against me.
Unfortunately, hate is not new to the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic alone demonstrated that even the act of condemning AAPI hate crimes can be controversial. After seeing that there were only a couple of major AAPI law firms and elected officials able to effectively advocate for the victims of hate crimes, it became apparent that the AAPI community does not have the necessary representation within the legal field.
Living in Kentucky meant that I was used to not seeing many AAPI faces in my schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces. This also meant that since the pandemic started, I learned to maintain a low profile in fear of being targeted at public facilities. Even more recent events forced me to fear for my safety as an AAPI woman. The longer I hid, the more I started to think about my place within society. Why can’t I be the person to promote justice and ensure equity for all? Why am I hiding when I have the ability and capacity to push for social change?
In my journey to become a lawyer, I learned that AAPIs have been prevalent within law schools and other professional schools. However, according to the American Bar Association, only 2% of lawyers are AAPI, while the overall U.S. Asian population is 6%. When accounting for AAPI lawyers in Kentucky, there are even fewer. This has made it difficult for many individuals, such as my immigrant parents, to seek legal advice. Not only are there few lawyers who understand the language, but also few lawyers who consider how major cultural barriers could impact someone from receiving proper legal counsel. Yet, AAPI communities have been held as a gem and are considered overrepresented in law.
I was unable to have a mentor who can help me navigate the steps to become a lawyer. Now, I hope that in my position as a future lawyer, I can become a mentor to other AAPI students who are interested in law. Furthermore, I strive to dismantle the harmful stereotypes that the AAPI community, as well as other minority populations, have faced. By promoting diversity and inclusion in my practice, providing safe spaces for my fellow AAPIs to vocalize their stories without fear, and educating others on the history of racism and discrimination of multiple AAPI communities, I strive to stand at the forefront and become a leader in the fight for solidarity and change.
6. Long term goals/ aspirations:
Although I have not fully planned out my long term goals, I wish to be an attorney who can not only enforce the laws and policies of the United States, but also be on the forefront of changing laws to improve overall quality of life for my communities. More specifically, I will advocate on the platform of health equity.
7. What accomplishment, academic or otherwise, are you most proud of?
I am currently the most proud of graduating from undergraduate and graduate school in general. As a first-generation college student, I had to quickly learn how to navigate coursework, networking, and extracurricular activities without the academic and professional support from family members. Graduation has demonstrated my tenacity and ability to successfully adapt to academia beyond its traditional expectations and despite the hurdles.
8. What has been your favorite part of the graduate school experience at UofL?
My favorite part of the graduate school experience was collaborating with other graduate students, faculty, staff, and the Graduate School Office through the Graduate Student Council. I came into graduate school during the height of the pandemic in 2020, so having this organization helped me find new friends, build transferable skills, and work to foster a new sense of community within the student body.
9. What do you feel is the greatest challenge that graduate students face and how have you dealt with this challenge?
One of my biggest challenges as a graduate student was determining how to balance school and a healthy lifestyle. Between writing dissertations, studying for exams, networking, and taking care of one’s personal life, it is hard to find time to relax and take care of one’s physical and mental health. I am fortunate that I have found OrangeTheory Fitness to promote my physical health. I am also fortunate to have found UofL’s Counseling Center and the Graduate Student Council, groups who have allowed me to express my opinions without worries and introduced me to other students and events so I can have a semblance of a social life. My biggest advice would be to get involved and take advantage of all the resources at UofL and in Louisville.
A talent you have always wanted: Drawing beyond stick figures and flowers
Favorite book: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Favorite quote: “nhớ một, làm mười” This literally translates to “remember one, do ten.” This is something my family has always said to me from childhood. Anytime we learn a lesson, make a mistake, been told a small detail, or even notice something at random, it is not for us to solely know about it. We must strive to apply that knowledge but also demonstrate exemplary understanding of that lesson. For instance, if a friend tells me that they dislike fish products, it means that I must now consider that they may not like seafood, so I will now be cognizant of choosing or making dishes. This is to demonstrate that I care about the individual. Another example is if a professor tells me about how the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. Alright, what does being a powerhouse of the cell mean? What is the mechanism? Does that logic apply to other biological aspects? Are there any potential inferences I can make outside of biology? Overall, the point of the quote is to go beyond expectations. Don’t remain stuck in the mold that is provided.
Role Model: Mom/Dad. They have been my strongest supporters despite not understanding the educational responsibilities and cultural expectations of a student in the United States.
Favorite Vacation Destination: Vietnam
If you weren’t in Graduate School, what would you be doing now?: I would most likely be seeking a position within the government or a non-profit organization where I can create positive change within Louisville laws and regulation.