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RSS Salutatorian Takes Advantage of Opportunities

Havi Nguyen displays an app she created, “Goodbye World,” a mobile game that teaches children about environmental issues.

Photo by Carrie Pryor-Newman


Havi Nguyen displays an app she created, “Goodbye World,” a mobile game that teaches children about environmental issues.



Proudly displaying her Jack Kent Cooke Foundation banner, Havi Nguyen is grateful for the educational opportunities the Foundation has provided for her.

Photo by Carrie Pryor-Newman


Proudly displaying her Jack Kent Cooke Foundation banner, Havi Nguyen is grateful for the educational opportunities the Foundation has provided for her.


RSS Salutatorian Takes Advantage of Opportunities


By: Susan Passmore


Making the most of opportunities is nothing new for Havi Nguyen. She’s done that all her life. As graduation looms before her, the Ross S. Sterling senior, salutatorian for the Class of 2018, is bound for Columbia University, having also been accepted to two other Ivy League schools - the University of Pennsylvania and New York University - but she has taken advantage of numerous opportunities to get to this point.


Havi’s parents, Trung Nguyen and Jennifer Le, left Viet Nam to come to the United States to work and start a family. Havi started kindergarten in Houston and, although she was not proficient in English, she scored well enough on a placement test to not be placed in a bilingual program. Immersed in English, she had to learn quickly, and she entered Harlem Elementary for first grade, landing in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program and developing a love for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) that still fascinates her.


At Gentry Junior School, Havi excelled in UIL Number Sense, Calculator Application and Math events. She also got involved with History Day. As a seventh-grader, she was accepted as a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Young Scholar, an organization that has provided support and encouragement, along with a laptop, a camera and scholarship money. She meets her cohort group of 59 other talented, ambitious students in Washington, D.C. annually to learn from them as well as from leading professors and alumni from the Foundation. These students are from different backgrounds, and some attend private schools, but Havi views learning about their lives as just another opportunity.


“I am a first-generation student with parents who came to America for opportunities. Throughout my life, I never needed anyone to tell me to do well in school because I constantly told myself that I needed to succeed. In my eyes, there were no excuses,” Havi said.


One opportunity Havi gladly accepted was a scholarship for a class at Yale in 2016, which inspired her to create her first app. The class was taught by an 18-year old professor, Brian Ramirez, a successful entrepreneur, and Havi sees him as a friend and a mentor.


Her second app, “Goodbye World,” is a mobile game that introduces children to environmental issues and promotes an environmentally friendly lifestyle. She created an app called “Unit Converter” to help her mother, who was used to the metric system, convert units into fractions while cooking.


“When I wrote my first line of code, I just couldn’t stop. It was magnetizing that through code, you can build anything you want,” Havi said. “I see coding as others see Lego blocks. You have different concepts that can be represented as Legos, and you can build something no one else can. No one can replicate your style of coding.”


Havi’s working on a website to help low income students navigate college websites.


“I’ve surveyed students, and most of them, especially low income students, are not aware of the application process that can help them get accepted into colleges, even those that are out of state. This website will take all information available for students and centralize it,” Havi said.


Research became another passion for Havi, and she found that she loved immersing herself in history. Her sophomore year, she advanced to National History Day, so her goal as a junior was to place at the National History Day competition, encouraged by history teachers Arlene Hastings-Hill and Stephanie Cottle. She placed second at National History Day, which included entries from the all over the United States as well as from 10 countries, with her independent research project and historical exhibition “Lewis Hine: Capturing the Injustice of Child Labor.”


“I interviewed historians and former child laborers to project a message of activism. I researched Lewis Hine, who would sneak into factories at night, taking pictures of children and publishing them. He pushed for the eradication of and reforms against child labor,” Havi said. “I wanted to show how Americans progressed and how the movement could be emulated in Third World Countries.”


By reaching out to the right people, Havi coordinated her trip to the National History Day competition with the opportunity to present her interactive project to the public, including professors and historians, at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.


“She has an incredible work ethic,” said Arlene Hastings-Hill, Havi’s AP U.S. History teacher, “She lives and learns deliberately every day. There is such a purpose to everything she does!”


Havi has continued to be successful in UIL events, including Number Sense, Calculator Applications, Accounting, Science, General Mathematics, Feature Writing and Editorial Writing. Although she doesn’t take art, she likes to visit the art classes. She submitted a photo she took in San Francisco of a boy playing a small piano, winning a medal at the State Visual Arts Scholastic Event (VASE). She plays the piano and the clarinet, and she was in the marching band, but she had trouble fitting it into her schedule. After all, most days she rides the school bus and helps take care of her younger siblings until her parents come home from work.


Another feather in Havi’s cap this year was being selected as the 2018 National Honorable Mention and the 2018 Houston Affiliate Winner of the National Center for Women and Information Technology Award for Aspirations in Computing. She hopes to use this as a platform to encourage more females to enter STEM careers.


Recently, she was invited to apply for, due to her advanced level of computer science experience, the Google Coursera program, an invitation-only virtual class designed for aspiring technologists. She is excited about the opportunity to receive mentorship and guidance from Google engineers.


After taking all the AP courses available and some dual credit classes, Havi was pleased that when class ranking was announced, she had earned the rank of salutatorian with a grade point average of 5.583. She admitted that she was a little nervous about addressing her class at graduation, but in true Havi-style, she planned to make this an opportunity to express her feelings.


“Sometimes I look back and regret some of the opportunities I might have missed, but I appreciate that Sterling High School has shaped me and brought me to where I am now,” Havi said.


With high school ending, there’s a whole new world out there for this incredible young lady. For Havi, it’s always been all about opportunities, and she rarely lets one pass her by.



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