April 08, 2019

Century College students Bronte Evans and Thach Nguyen were recently named semifinalists for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The award, created by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, is given to the top community college students in the country.

The highly selective scholarship is awarded annually to approximately 45 students nationwide. It provides up to $40,000 per year for up to three years at an undergraduate institution.

While Evans and Nguyen would love to win the award, making it this far is no small feat. The recognition that comes with being a semifinalist can go a long way. Many have gone on to earn scholarships from prestigious institutions such as Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia.

Overcoming Adversity

On paper, Evans and Nguyen may seem like very different people. Evans majors in Psychology, while Nguyen is studying to become an electrical engineer. Evans was born and raised in Minnesota. Nguyen, on the other hand, travelled across the world to attend Century College.

These two friends, though, have both fought through adversity to get to where they are today.

Evans, an only child, lived in subsidized housing throughout her childhood. Her father struggled with addiction, while her mother faced chronic illness.

“It feels incredible, like my dreams are becoming reality,” said Evans.

Nguyen grew up in a small village in Vietnam and moved away from his family to attend Century College.

“Growing up in a small village narrowed my expectations for myself,” said Nguyen. “When I heard I was a semifinalist, I was amazed. I never thought I’d make it this far.”

Seeing Clearly Through Cracked Lenses

Century College graduate An Garagiola-Bernier, who was named a Jack Kent Cooke scholar in 2016, mentored both Evans and Nguyen. When asked about them, Garagiola-Bernier brought up a quote she once read.

“Those who have been through adversity,” the quote goes, “see clearly through cracked lenses.”

Garagiola-Bernier believes those who have experienced adversity know the changes that need to happen in the world. Indeed, both Evans and Nguyen have turned adversity into a strong sense of purpose, and a distinct idea of the impact they want to make in the world.

Feeling limited by her circumstances, Evans struggled to dream big. This later fueled her desire to help disadvantaged people discover their unique talents and personalities in order to lead them down a fulfilling career path.

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” said Evans, relaying a quote by novelist George Eliot. “Whenever I come across someone who struggles to find meaning, I try to inspire them to follow their passion.”

While Evans seeks to change the world by helping individuals, Nguyen hopes to change the world by helping the Earth.

Nguyen knows the devastating impact climate change has on Vietnam, and he remembers well the dirty rivers and terrible pollution resulting from fossil fuels.

This drove Nguyen to electrical engineering, aspiring to work in sustainable energy.

“Community is close to my heart. How I contribute is very important to me,” said Nguyen. “By working toward sustainable energy I know I can make the world better.”

Finding Purpose

Out of high school, Evans hadn’t yet discovered how she would make the world better. She was working at a furniture store, aspiring to become an interior designer. While encountering unhappy coworkers who had lost their purpose, Evans found hers.

Evans led 20+ people in taking the Meyers Briggs personality test, and after learning more about them, helped them gain a better understanding of how they could utilize their strengths and passions.

“It’s like a puzzle to me,” said Evans. “Putting the pieces together, it creates a beautiful picture.”

This experience inspired her to study Psychology at Century College, in the hope of becoming an academic advisor/counselor in higher education. Evans goal is to work with underserved and disadvantaged students – something she has already done as a peer mentor for TRIO Student Support Services.

Evans long-term aspiration is to become a Psychology Professor, conducting research to develop a personality test of her own.

Making a Huge Difference

When Nguyen came to the United States, he had no idea what his career path would be. But he knew Century College was the place to find it.

“My parents wanted a brighter future for me,” said Nguyen. “That’s why they sent me to Century College.”

The Jack Kent Cooke scholarship would allow Nguyen to study electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota.

The recipients of the scholarship will be announced this April. For Evans and Nguyen, it may feel like their futures are up in the air as they wait to hear the results. But if you ask Garagiola-Bernier, their future is no mystery.

“They’re both brilliant, kind-hearted people who are going to make a huge difference in this world,” said Garagiola-Bernier.