There is a beautiful sculpture set outside the Reynolds Building at NOVA’s Loudoun campus by Vietnamese artisan Vinh Do. It is silver and delicate and gives the impression of a bird taking flight. There is an equally beautiful story behind the work.
Sung Nguyen was born in Vietnam in 1969. At the time, his mother worked for the U.S. Air Force officer’s club, and his dad was a transportation agent for the U.S. Embassy. In the summer of 1974,
when he was five years old, Sung’s grandmother took him to visit her Hometown of Chu Lai about 500 miles away from Saigon. It was supposed to be just a short trip, but it began a years-long Odyssey that would change the course of his life forever. The Vietnam War broke out while Sung and his grandmother were still in Chu Lai and Saigon fell to the Viet Cong. His family was evacuated to the United States, but Sung and his grandmother were left behind.
Over the course of the next 18 years, the two attempted to escape 22 times and were even jailed 4 or 5 times. In 1986, Sung told his grandmother that it was too dangerous and they needed to stop trying to escape. Instead, he focused on school.
Sung’s uncle in the U.S. was an early employee with Federal Express in 1976. In 1989, he visited Vietnam arranged for Sung and his grandmother to come to America under a program established in 1979 to permit immigration of Vietnamese to the United States and to other countries. Finally successful, on August 16, 1991, Sung and his grandmother landed in New York and headed immediately to their new home in Loudoun County, Virginia.
Within just days of his arrival, Sung’s mother took him to NOVA’s Loudoun Campus and told him to pick something to study. He met Registrar Gert Heslin who helped him navigate placement tests and
registering for classes. He began his studies at NOVA on August 24, 1991 in ESL-013 with Prof. Yitna Firdyiwek, a man who was very interested in education technology.
“Firdyiwek was very motivated by technology. He connected six or seven Mac computers and taught the students to collaborate in real-time. He could work and see them all,” Sung said. “It was so amazing and motivated me.”
Sung was also very interested in computers and loved programming. He had started learning about computers in Vietnam in early 1986.
“Coming to America, there were computers everywhere! It was like the land of promise for me,” he said. “I started working at Roy Rogers for three months until I had enough money to buy my first computer.”
He bought an IBM PC, and in the spring of 1992, he began working as a work study with Dr. Bev Blois and Office Manager Robert Walnetski in NOVA-Loudoun’s Humanities Division, where he helped to
maintain the computers for the department. Sung says that Blois and his wife Marilyn embraced him as if he were their own son. They kept in touch consistently, even after he moved from the area.
“I transferred to Florida for school and other places for work, but they would always send me a Christmas card,” Sung said. “I finally realized that he was very sincere in his kindness to me.”
Blois had a particular interest in Vietnam after visiting in 1991 as one of the first academics hosted by the Ministry of Education in Saigon. When he returned, Blois and his wife took Vietnamese language courses together. When he met Sung, he would use the small amount of Vietnamese he had picked up along the way to become more conversant, and his love for the country and people deepened.
“Sung is very committed to his education and to his family,” Blois said. “Through the years, you try to remember as many students as you can, but some just defy being forgotten.”
Sung’s brother-in-law Vinh Do, an artist, had an exhibit in Vietnam, and Vinh sent photos of his sculptures. This sparked an idea for Sung. He went to his mentor, Blois, and told him how grateful he was for all that NOVA had done for him. He wanted to do something to give back to the college by donating a sculpture to the Loudoun Campus.
He flew the sculpture—and the artist—to America from Vietnam. Vinh-Do assembled the work himself. Blois even arranged for him to offer an artist’s master class to students in NOVA’s art program.
The sculpture has the appearance of a crane taking flight. In Vietnam, the crane is a cultural symbol of education and advancement, appropriate given the benefactor’s history as well as the venue. If you stand in just the right position and look straight down on the glass beneath, you will also see the American Flag waving in the breeze, another deeply meaningful symbol.
After NOVA, Sung transferred and earned a B.S. in Aviation Computer Science from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, an M.S. in Software Engineering from the University of St. Thomas
(Minneapolis) and a Doctor of Engineering in Systems Engineering and Engineering Management from George Washington University.
Sung began working for Google in October 2005 and is now a technologist for Google Cloud. He is married to Tuy Van. They have two boys, Andy (18) and Kenny (13) and live in Leesburg.
In addition, the next generation has begun at NOVA. Sung’s niece, the daughter of Vinh Do, An Huyen (19) and her cousin Thu Nguyen (18) have been studying at NOVA-Loudoun for eight months, both majoring in Bio-Technology. An Huyen hopes to pursue a career as a pharmacist, and Thu Nguyen hopes to become a dentist.
Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through the Extended Learning Institute. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.