In 2003, when Phung Nguyen arrived in California at the age of 14, he was placed in a class where he spent hours learning English words with three letters. Vietnam was far away, and he was homesick.
Today, Nguyen (BA ’13, Credential ’14) teaches physics, biology, and eighth grade science at Sacramento’s School of Engineering and Sciences (SSES), one of the newest and only 7th through 12th grade programs within Sacramento City Unified School District.
“The first time I thought of teaching was when I transferred to Valley High School and met Mr. James Welcome,” said Nguyen. As the English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, Welcome did much more than teach English. “He took care of us ESL students, making sure we stayed on track and graduated properly.”
Nguyen credits many teachers with inspiring him to pursue education as a career— from his Valley High biology teacher, Kenneth Steele, “whose charisma and energy” stoked Nguyen’s love of science, to Mr. Welcome, who also helped Nguyen apply to college at the last minute and paid the application fee himself. “I will never forget the day I applied to UC Davis.”
As an undergraduate, Ngyuen majored in wildlife fish conservation biology. His year in the teaching credential program was “very stressful and challenging, and it prepared me well for my current work,” he said.
He credits his supervisor, UC Davis School of Education science teaching credential lecturer Rick Pomeroy, and the student services staff in the School with his success. “They made sure I got support financially and got all my paperwork done. Even after I finished the program, they helped me with job interviews,” said Nguyen, who received a SAFE Credit Union VISA scholarship to support his pursuit of a credential in science.
Now in his first full year of teaching, Nguyen has decided to complete his master’s degree next year so he can focus solely on his teaching this year. In addition to his teaching load, Nguyen also helps the other science teachers at SSES develop their Next Generation Science Standards curriculum and is the anime club’s advisor.
“I am certain most teachers work more than 10 hours a day,” said Ngyuen. “It is hard work but also rewarding. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the fact that I love teaching. That is my ultimate reward.”