Dr. Tung Thanh Nguyen, 51
Chair, President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, U.S. Department of Education
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
How did you get here?
I am here because of historical forces. My cultural background is Vietnamese-French-American, because I was born in Vietnam not long after the end of French colonization and came to the U.S. as a refugee at the end of the Vietnam War. I grew up in a period with a huge increase in the Asian American population and saw how our problems and assets were visible to us but not the government. As an adult, I have tried to address these issues by helping individuals through my role as a doctor and a professor and by helping the community through my role as a researcher. The election of the first minority American President led to significant opportunities for Asian Americans such as myself to make a difference at the national level, first as a member and then as Chair of President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career?
I am deeply indebted to my parents, without whose guidance and sacrifice I would have neither the opportunities to succeed nor the understanding that my success is dependent on lessening the sufferings of others. I also owe my teachers, including Marilyn Dunn, who encouraged a high school student who only learned to speak English 6 years before to apply to Harvard, and Dr. Stephen J. McPhee, who showed me how to work collaboratively with the community to address health disparities.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during the Obama administration?
I am proud of the work that the White House Initiative on AAPIs and the Advisory Commission on AAPIs have done to connect the AAPI communities to the federal government through activities such as regional engagement, Affordable Care Act enrollment, disaggregated data collection, and public-private partnerships. I was particularly proud of having been a part of the first Lunar New Year celebration in the White House, the first AAPI mental health meeting in the White House, and the first Commission meeting with the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population in Hawaii.
Can you describe your time working for the Obama administration in 10 words?
Partnership. Reality. Educational. Strategic. Inspirational. Difficult. Empowering. Networks. Transformative. Service.
Complete the sentence: “When I’m not working, I…”
When I’m not working, I am usually having fun with my wife and 3 children, listening to and playing music, playing sports, and watching the Golden State Warriors for the last 27 years.