Nicole Nguyen

After several years of studying the effects and complications of AIDS and the human immunodeficiency virus, new University of Utah graduate Nicole Nguyen will take what she knows to Africa, where the disease is known to infect nearly 15 percent of the total population.

Nguyen, 21, says that growing up in "an underprivileged and dangerous neighborhood" in Salt Lake City opened her eyes to various problems and issues that plague young people. Her experiences of seeing rampant drug use, teen pregnancies and criminal activity so close to home — even in her own family — led her to a life dedicated to helping others.

"I am motivated to succeed because I want to show my family and my community that the world is not against us, and that although there are obstacles we all face, there is hope," she said.

Nguyen has worked with the Utah AIDS Foundation to improve the protocol it uses to deal with drug abusers and has instituted free HIV testing on the University of Utah campus — where she organized the Utah Asian American High School Conference and served as senior class president.

She was recently honored as Utah's 2008 YouthLINC Young Humanitarian and won a $5,000 scholarship. Nguyen is the fourth winner of the prize, which is meant to inspire young people to service and is offered through the Youth Serving the Local and International Needs Community not-for-profit organization.

"Her successes give us all hope that young people can be service leaders and make a real difference in this world that is plagued by so many needs," said Judy Zone, YouthLINC executive director.

Nguyen is taking her knowledge and service-inspired devotion to the village of Kiamuri, Kenya, where she will work on the YouthLINC medical and community health committee.

"I hope to learn more about the problem of AIDS globally and gain hands-on experience working with highly affected populations," she said. After her trip with the organization to Kenya, Nguyen will continue completion of a career in pharmacy.

"As a first-generation college student from a low-income household, I have found motivation to succeed when it has been unlikely," Nguyen said. "I have worked hard and raised the bar for myself to be a leader for my community."

Nguyen was one of 61 applicants for the humanitarian award. The program is open to all secondary and college students in Utah and judges narrowed their selection to 12 finalists.

Zone said that Nguyen exceeded the expectations of the judges in that she "not only raised herself up out of some unfortunate circumstances but has dedicated her young life to helping other students and people do the same, which is quite remarkable for someone her age."

Other finalists of the 2008 Humanitarian Award were awarded a $1,000 scholarship and include Viewmont High School senior Madison Baugh, Olympus High School senior Candace Hawks, U. graduate and service-learning scholar Bryndon Hatch and East High School senior Libbi Sorenson.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com