One giant leap for Dacey Nguyen

Orange Coast College astrophysics major Dacey Nguyen is headed to an internship program with NASA. The 19-year-old, who also started OCC’s Society of Women in Space Exploration club said she sobbed when she found out she was selected for the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholar program.

Dacey Nguyen decided she deserved to shoot for the stars — figuratively and literally.

Nguyen, a 19-year-old astrophysics major, recently earned a spot in NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars program, NCAS. The NCAS program is an educational experience for community college students interested in exploring careers in STEM-based fields.

Nguyen recalled the moment when she first saw her acceptance to the program in an email and started sobbing.

“I called my parents sobbing and they thought something was wrong at first. I could hear my dad’s coworkers screaming on the phone,” Nguyen said.

During the program, students compete to become a NASA Community College Aerospace Scholar by completing STEM-based activities online for a chance to visit a NASA Center for a four-day, paid, onsite experience.

Physics wasn’t always Nguyen’s cup of tea. In fact, she was terrible at it in high school, she said. But she grew to love it eventually and when she started looking into careers, NASA and aerospace came up.

“The first astronomy class I took at OCC I knew this is what I wanted to do. I think the fact it’s so daunting made me even more motivated,” Nguyen said.

Jerome Phang, one of the co-advisers of the Society of Women in Space Exploration club, SWISE and professor of astronomy, got to know Nguyen after she finished his astronomy class.

Phang said a large class size makes it hard to be involved but that Nguyen was an engaged student who did well.

Nguyen is the founder and president of the SWISE club which meets in the Astronomy House on Tuesday from 3 p.m. until 4pm. The club is part of a national chapter and started this fall at OCC for the first time.

According to Nguyen, the club is a safe and inclusive environment for everyone who is traditionally underserved in the STEM community — women, people of color and non-binary people. One of her goals is to ease access to different opportunities that she and other marginalized people weren’t afforded in the past, she said.

The fact is the STEM field is mainly dominated by straight men, and young girls, women and especially women of color need to see more diverse representation, she said.

“There’s a statistic out there that says little girls by the time they’re in first or second grade know they’re interested in the world of science but it’s portrayed as such a boyish thing to do,” Nguyen said.

If it wasn’t for her love of math and science, Nguyen said she believes she wouldn’t be where she is today.

Nguyen mentioned high school internships for students and other educational opportunities she didn’t receive. Her goal is to spread the word to OCC students to let them know they have opportunities and resources too.

As a student from a low income family, community college was the easiest path financially on Nguyen’s parents. From an early age she thought math was great and said she feels blessed to have support from her parents and teachers.

“My mom is my biggest hype man,” Nguyen said.

The vice president of the SWISE club, AJ Brown, a 21-year-old astrophysics major, said she ran for the position to make things easier for under-represented people in space exploration.

Brown said she has known Nguyen for two years and said working with a friend has been positive because they see eye to eye and share the same mission for the club.

Having a friend group full of STEM majors has been a fortunate experience for Nguyen as well. But, she said, there has been negativity received from men at OCC and in general for being a woman of color and a STEM major.

Nguyen thinks society is getting better but isn’t quite there. That is where she comes in.

“I feel proud to allow others to have another home on campus,” Nyugen said.

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