After being on a full scholarship at BVIS for 4 years 2014-2017, our Class of 2017 Alumna Ngo Thanh Lam obtained a full scholarship to attend Bucknell University (Pennsylvania, USA), Yale-NUS University (Singapore) and Tomorrow Young Leaders of York University (Canada).
Lam was also granted a scholarship from Presidential Fellowship to join in Global Academic Sustainability research.
In autumn 2020, Lam spent her days at a bustling construction site in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, leading concrete pours and laying the groundwork for a complex of three luxury apartment towers with a retail base — one of the largest development projects now underway in her hometown.
Even though the project is only a few kilometres from where she grew up, her journey spanned three continents to get there. And at the heart of it all to get to that point, was her experience living and learning at Bucknell.
Studying civil engineering and economics, Ngo craves opportunities to explore the world with her own eyes, as well as learning through face-to-face interactions — not from textbooks. It's a spirit that guides not only how she takes advantage of the opportunities Bucknell provides, but also how she's approaching her future.
The latest immersive experience for Lam Ngo was her senior design project, where she devised ways to protect a park near Bucknell from floods. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications, Bucknell University
"I look at a career as a way to experience more," she said. "What's interesting about this industry is that you meet so many people and are constantly in contact. I find it very energising because I like talking to people and hearing them talk about things that they're passionate about."
At Bucknell, she found the support and connections to unlock those opportunities from day one.
From Vietnam to Lewisburg
Knowing she'd be supported in her journey was a major factor in Lam Ngo's decision to attend Bucknell. When it comes to paying for college, international students aren't eligible for the same federal resources as U.S. students, including federal student loans or work-study. That made scholarships and financial aid an important factor as she chose her college.
"I was advised that Bucknell is one of the most generous schools financially in the U.S. for international students — especially for liberal arts schools with engineering programs," she said.
Financial aid and scholarships did more than help Lam Ngo attend Bucknell. They've continued enabling life-changing experiences every step of the way.
It began with a Presidential Fellowship, a generous scholarship that allowed Lam Ngo to start doing research with her professors from her first semester on campus while providing between $10,000 and $30,000 per year in tuition assistance. Together with Professor Jessica Newlin who teaches civil and environmental engineering, she's exploring ways to better incorporate social awareness and an inclusive focus in engineering curriculums, with the aim of publishing her work in a peer-reviewed journal.
"It's a four-year program for research," she said. "I thought that was really interesting — I wasn't particularly into research back then, but I liked the chance to get to know more people and was really keen on having one-on-one time with professors."
Those direct interactions with her professors and members of Bucknell's active alumni community guide Lam Ngo as she maps out her future — one where she's committed to bringing her own ideas and goals into tangible reality.
"A lot of alumni spoke about projects not going the way they wanted because of costs and stakeholders getting in the way," she said. "I decided I wanted to work my way into being a decision-maker. There's nothing wrong with offering consultation, but I'd like to have more power in the projects that I'm working on."
Lam Ngo went to Bucknell with an interest in environmental science, but she later switched to a civil engineering major, a field where she felt she'd have more control to guide projects rather than offering only consultations. She then added a second major in economics through Bucknell's five-year Dual Engineering & Liberal Arts Program to help her better prepare for a career in leadership and management.
More Lands to Explore
As her interests evolved, Lam Ngo took every opportunity to immerse herself in the subjects she studied, including internships and a yearlong study abroad in the U.K. Bucknell not only helped her connect with those opportunities but also provided tangible support to make them happen.
Through a paid on-campus internship with Bucknell Facilities, Lam Ngo spent the summer after her first year studying building schematics and upgrading lighting fixtures on campus to improve energy efficiency.
Her next summer took her to California, where she worked with the state's Department of Transportation in San Diego through an internship she discovered with help from Bucknell's Center for Career Advancement.
"It's the government, so their work had to be very precise. A lot of my work involved reading up on the code and making sure all the drawings met the standard," she said. "We had to redraw a lot of old bridges since the plans before the '70s were all drawn by hand. You had to redraw them on digital software and then go out and measure them to make sure they matched the plans."
Support for that on-the-ground experience came through the Bucknell Public Interest Program, which offers stipends up to $4,500 for students who have secured full-time, unpaid summer internships in the nonprofit and public service sectors.
In her junior year, Lam Ngo was looking to stretch even further. Inspired by her high school days at a British international school in Vietnam, she chose to spend the year studying abroad with a Bucknell partner program at the University of Nottingham in England. Her experience was partially supported by Bucknell's Edward McKnight Brawley Fund, which underwrites student activities that promote learning outside the classroom, including studying abroad.
While she enjoyed the experience before it was upended by the pandemic, Lam Ngo said studying at a much larger, more urban university also gave her a greater appreciation for the unique opportunities and environment she's found at Bucknell.
"I think it really made me appreciate Bucknell," she said. "Even though it was great to have more independence and meet more people, I found a lot less support in terms of professors, office hours and even with networking.
"I used to get a little bit annoyed that the Bucknell career center would send me emails every week," she added. "When I got to my new university, its career center wouldn't even reach out at all. I think there's a very thick web of interconnections here that I didn't appreciate until I didn't have it."
A Community to Call Home
Due to pandemic travel restrictions, Lam Ngo returned home to Vietnam for a semester following her study abroad, but she continued learning through her construction-industry internship, spending her mornings on the job site and her evenings studying remotely with Bucknell (Ho Chi Minh City and Lewisburg are 12 hours apart). When she returned to the U.S. in spring 2021, getting back to the community and connections on campus was what she most looked forward to.
"I always found community around me," she said. "There are niche communities everywhere — the LGBT community, the international community, Vietnamese community, the Black Engineering Society.
"When you're an international student, you kind of have one foot in America but also one foot in your culture. Those communities make it special. At Bucknell you feel taken care of. I never feel like I have to be on my own."
*Source: Lam Ngo ’22, Civil Engineering and Economics, Student Stories, Bucknell University