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By Julianne Pepitone

Throughout her life, Vicky Nguyen has navigated her way through difficult situations. She and her parents fled Vietnam when she was an infant. She lived in a Malaysian refugee camp. She got her first job in journalism by convincing a station manager she didn’t know to watch her tapes. And as a senior investigative reporter and anchor for NBC Bay Area, she routinely asks pressing questions to people who don’t want to talk.

But it was a salary negotiation in 2015 that “felt like an out-of-body experience” for Nguyen, who led a team that recently won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award.

“I re-read my negotiating books, I practiced in the mirror, and yet my heart was still pounding,” said Nguyen, 40. “I was about to march into the general manager’s office and ask for an astronomical raise,” or about 50 percent more than her current salary, she added.

Nguyen said asking for the raise was a major Know Your Value moment in her life.

I stuck to the facts of what I’d done; it wasn’t ego and it wasn’t emotion. It was like, ‘I did this, and this and this … I deserve that raise.'Vicky Nguyen

Yes, Nguyen was nervous to approach her boss, but she knew the conversation was necessary. After all, she had been at the station for a few years and had been quickly promoted from a general assignment reporter to covering special projects. But the new gig came one day after Nguyen had signed a new contract, so there was no raise. A few years later, she was promoted again, this time to her current role.

Nguyen was under the same contract, so initially she kept quiet and worked hard for the next two years. She covered a number of high-profile stories, including Sysco Corporation’s unsanitary food handling, which landed her an Emmy.

When it was time to renew her contract, “I had to fight for what I deserved,” Nguyen recounted.

Nguyen's boss was shocked at her sizable ask. Negotiations were contentious at times. The general manager and assistant news director were eventually brought in. Nguyen was willing to walk away, she said, which helped firm her resolve.

“I stuck to the facts of what I’d done; it wasn’t ego and it wasn’t emotion. It was like, ‘I did this, and this and this … I deserve that raise,’” Nguyen said. “I threw in analogies: ‘I’m a stock you invested in at a great price and I’ve paid dividends.’ Looking back I can’t believe I actually did it.”

But she did – and she won. Nguyen didn’t receive the major raise right up front, but she and leadership agreed to a deal that was structured to get her the amount she wanted over time.

“It was an out-of-body experience, and a tough one – but it was well worth it,” Nguyen said. “I look back and I am so proud that I stood my ground for what I deserved.”

Nguyen is also passionate about helping other women to get what they deserve, too. Those efforts include serving as career coach at Know Your Value’s 2018 national event.

“It’s really important to pass on your experiences to those around you, to the next generation,” said Nguyen, a mother of three.

In the years since her Know Your Value moment at the negotiating table, Nguyen has continued to “pay dividends,” as she put it, on the raise she received.

Most recently Nguyen, investigative producer Kevin Nious and the rest of the team found out their investigation into attacks on local bus drivers won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, which is considered among the most prestigious in the journalism industry.

The “Drivers Under Siege” investigation involved Nguyen and team reviewing more than 200 bus surveillance videos, which revealed assaults had actually spiked —despite the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District claiming such attacks were on the decline. In fact, the team found, AC Transit drivers faced more violent assaults than in any other Bay Area district.

As a result of the investigation, AC Transit installed new bus shields to protect drivers, and California federal lawmakers introduced a bill in Congress that would require transit districts nationwide to reassess their safety measures.

The committee for the duPont awards called Nguyen and the team’s series “hard-hitting,” adding that it “provided shocking testimony” that led to change.

“It was really gratifying to give [the drivers] a voice, and by shining a light, help change to happen on the local level,” Nguyen said. “Accolades are of course nice, but they’re the icing on the cake. Investigative work is about making things right.”