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Phuong My Nguyen – Department of History

Long-distance graduate student doesn’t let miles keep her from master’s degree

Phuong My Nguyen

Although Phuong My Nguyen has lived in Ohio for nearly a year and a half, she graduates with a Master’s degree in History this month in the CLASS Commencement ceremony on December 20.

“I had already completed my coursework for the History MA program, so I only had to complete my thesis, which could be done from anywhere,” said Nguyen.

But as simple as it sounds, actually doing the work – while working full-time and living 1,000 miles away from professors and classmates – proved to be a challenge.

She credits her advisor, Dr. Sarah Fishman, history professor and associate dean of undergraduate studies, for helping her stay encouraged and on task.

“Dr. Fishman taught me it is okay to have stress, but that you have to overcome that stress or self-doubt in order to move on with your work or your life,” Nguyen said. “Then that doubt transforms into a true learning experience.”

Another source of support was her husband, whose own graduate studies in history at Miami University prompted their move to Ohio.

“For the past six months, my husband and I each locked ourselves in our respective offices for anywhere from two to six hours to work on our theses.” She said. “Whenever I felt like I just wanted to go to sleep or watch television, my husband would bargain with me to work for just one more hour. That one hour would usually be enough to motivate me to work for two hours, sometimes more.”

Nguyen’s thesis, “Beyond War Relief: American Women and War Relied at the Western Front in World War I,” focuses on three American women who volunteered in the war zone overseas long before the United States abandoned its neutrality in the Great War.

“Phoung selected three women not because they were remarkable, but because they were representative of the hundreds of other cases she saw in the archives Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe in Cambridge, Mass.,” Dr. Fishman said. “Phoung tells their stories in a compelling way.”

Nguyen chose to attend the University of Houston as an undergraduate after earning her diploma at Jersey Village High School in Houston because of its affordability and proximity to her family’s home.

“I became interested in history during my sophomore year,” said Nguyen. “I believe the history faculty at UH are passionate about their topics and dedicated to helping students understand the significance of history.”

After completing her undergraduate degree, Nguyen continued her education by pursuing a history master’s degree – and got a full-time job on campus. She spent four years working in the CLASS Dean’s office.

Being a part-time graduate student taught her how to juggle increasing professional responsibilities and demanding coursework.

“Balancing work and school was difficult, but luckily, the graduate program in history caters to working students,” said Nguyen. “Classes were mostly in the evening, after work, so I could attend them. UH also offers its staff members three hours a week to continue their education, which helped when classes were taught during working hours. This also meant that my graduate degree took a little longer than a traditional full-time student.”

She began her role in the Dean’s office as a part-time worker, calling CLASS undergraduate students who did not enroll in an upcoming semester to see if there was any assistance the Dean’s Office could offer. She was promoted into a full-time position that integrated multiple administrative duties, including reconciling financial data and processing human resources information.

“I received more responsibility, eventually acting as business administrator for small programs like Master of Public Administration, Liberal Studies, and the CLASS development office,” said Nguyen. “Then, I assumed the duties as the Dean’s Assistant where I continued administrative duties, but also did event planning at the college level, and of course, assisted the Dean.”

She left the job to move to Ohio. After graduation, Nguyen plans to continue her education by earning a PhD.

“I would like to be able to concentrate on my graduate work in the future full time,” she said. “Attending graduate school was a choice I made to continue learning and exploring history to satisfy a personal curiosity, not a professional one. My professional and academic experiences have taught me that you never know what you might learn next or where that knowledge will take you.”

- By Monica Byars