From Vietnam to Rowan at Camden to Los Angeles: Chemistry major lands full scholarship to pursue doctorate at USC


Phong Trinh, who came to the U.S. just seven years ago, has accepted a full ride to the doctoral chemistry program at USC.

No fear.

That pretty much sums up Phong Trinh's approach to living in America. It's also the unofficial mantra that propelled Trinh's story of success.

"Afraid? No, no. I wasn't afraid," says Trinh, who, as a Vietnamese immigrant seven years ago, regularly reached out to Americans who could help him. He spoke no English when he left Binh Duong Province in South Vietnam--and a stable government job-- to come to America to fulfill his dream of being a scientist.

"People in America are very friendly. Whenever I had something I didn't understand, people helped me.

"Coming to America is a choice I made so I could pursue the most excellent chemistry education available," adds Trinh, who dreamed of being a chemist since middle school, when he saw a flower get frozen in liquid nitrogen.

As he prepares to graduate, summa cum laude, with his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Rowan University on Friday, May 14, Trinh is determined to begin the process of helping others. He has accepted a full ride to the doctoral program in chemistry at the University of Southern California, a scholarship that includes a $26,000-a-year stipend, a teaching assistantship, and a full benefits package.

"I'm interested in nanotechnology, analytical chemistry, electrochemistry and biosensors," he says.

In choosing USC, Trinh turned down similar scholarship offers from Purdue and the University of Connecticut. Living in Los Angeles, he says, will put him in a strong analytical chemistry program and in an area with a large Asian population.

"I like the research they do at USC. It's a well-known school with a very good chemistry department. And I like the area," says Trinh.

"After I accomplish my goal, my hope is to give back to the community or to those who strive to succeed in their American dream. People have helped me with my American dream. I want to do the same for others."

When he came to the United States in 2003, Trinh worked on the assembly line in medical supply factory. He enrolled in the EOF/ESL program at Rowan's Camden campus, a program that helped him prepare for college.

In his four years at Rowan, Trinh has had just two B-pluses. All other grades have been As. He has been named to the dean's list every semester, received a host of scholarships, presented his research at conferences, and served as a research assistant for chemistry and biochemistry professors Amos Mugweru and Kandalam Ramanujachary.

Additionally, he was the only Rowan student to receive the undergraduate Inorganic Award from the American Chemical Society Division of Inorganic Chemistry.

Trinh achieved all of that while working as a waiter for four years at Nam Phuong, a Vietnamese restaurant in Philadelphia.

He credits Jay Tran, EOF/ESL Counselor at Rowan at Camden, Sandra Smith, a former English teacher in Camden, and Ramanujachary and Mugweru with helping him to achieve academic success.

"Everyone knows Jay. He likes to help people," says Trinh. "Sandra Smith helped me a lot with my essays in my courses. By giving me opportunities to work in the lab, Dr. Mugweru and Dr. Ramanujachary provided me with guidance and the tools to improve my research skills."

But both Tran and Mugweru agree that Trinh's hard-working nature has brought him success.

"When we started him out in ESL, English wasn't his strength. He had a difficult time. But he worked really, really hard," says Tran. "He's a very humble young man, but, deep down, he has a real drive to succeed."

"I gave him different projects that involved different skills and he excelled at each of them," says Mugweru. "In class, Phong wasn't shy. If he didn't understand something, he would seek me out to ask more questions.

"The graduate schools are looking for students who are in the cream of the crop. His accomplishments and his hard work have put him at the top. The potential he has is just incredible."