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Grad Speaker’s Message: Plans Change and Failure is a Good Thing

Commencement Speaker Spring 2022, Tiff Nguyen

Tiff Nguyen ’22 shared her story of switching paths and appreciating that success isn’t guaranteed when she served as a commencement speaker for her graduating class.

Tiff Nguyen ’22 had her life planned out. Earn a degree in Biology, head directly to medical school, then become a doctor or a surgeon. Maybe, if she was feeling wild, she’d get a medical degree and a Ph.D.

But taking two years after graduation to pursue a research opportunity at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was never part of the plan.

One of the many things Tiff of Enola, Pennsylvania, has learned in her four years at York College of Pennsylvania is that plans can, and often do, change. A first-generation Vietnamese-American and reformed planner—Tiff says she believes she represents York College as a whole—she told her story of success, failure, and how one interaction can have a ripple effect on your life when she spoke at the May 14, 2022 Commencement at York College.

Changing paths

Tiff was on a premed track as a sophomore Biology major and certified medical technician working in a nursing home when COVID-19 hit. She witnessed many deaths. She saw how people changed in isolation. And she was overworked, exhausted, and on the verge of burnout.

“I don’t want to feel that way again,” she says.

So, when the opportunity presented itself to put a two-year pause on schooling after graduation and evaluate her career options, she jumped at the chance.

After some intimidating interviews, Tiff was accepted into the NIH Postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award program. For two years, she’ll conduct research full-time, focusing on immunology.

“I get to work with other scientists and get my feet in other areas that I haven’t explored at York College,” she says. Her experience performing independent research at the College helped her stand out to NIH. “It kind of opened that door I never saw myself.”

Nerding out for science

Because of Tiff’s master plan (undergraduate degree, medical school, become a doctor), it took a while for her to realize how many options she could pursue beyond medicine.

“During my time here at York College I was just exposed to so many things I never expected to be interested in,” she says.

A self-proclaimed science nerd, Tiff loves nothing more than to dig into research.

“I want to be a part of asking the questions,” she says. Working for a government agency such as NIH or a biotech or pharmaceutical company are career options for researchers.

“I want to help people. That’s my personality,” she says. But whether that help is delivered through direct patient care or research that can improve lives (while providing her better work-life balance) has yet to be determined.

Tiff plans to take the Medical College Admission Test in her first year at NIH so that if she decides to pursue medical school, she will be ready. But she’s confident that her time at NIH will help guide her in the direction she’s meant to go.

Benefits beyond the classroom

Tiff made sure to find opportunities beyond class lectures to expand on her York College experience. During the 95th annual Pennsylvania Academy of Sciences conference at DeSales University, she received the Spychala Award for Women in Science along with two other York College Biology students.

She also took it as an opportunity to work with a STEM Scholar mentee, Tristan Kent, to show how science can lead to not only research development but close relationships with faculty. It was by working with faculty that she realized her own interest in teaching others.

Tiff is the Chapter Vice President of Academic Affairs for Đoàn Lê Bảo Tịnh, a chapter of the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement based out of Our Lady and the Blessed Sacrament Church in Harrisburg.

On campus, Tiff was the president for both TriBeta Biological Honor Society and Pre-Medical and Allied Health Society. She also volunteered with Dr. Sean Georgi’s Brain Outreach Program at Yorkshire Elementary School and Central Market York to teach children about the brain.

“I realized how much I really love to teach and share my knowledge to others on top of being an academic tutor,” she says.

Sharing her story

After graduating from York College, Tiff reflects on how much she’s changed.

“I feel like York College has done so much for me,” she says. Interactions with professors that probably didn’t register with them led to one door opening, then another, then another. “It kind of became a ripple effect.”

She’s discovered that failures, when you learn from them, can be a good thing, and she was excited to share that message not only with her fellow graduates but with their friends and families who attended commencement.

“Our desire to learn,” she says, “should be greater than our fear of failure.”