Foothill College's new president, Thuy Thi Nguyen, is a practicing lawyer, general counsel for the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office and thought to be the first Vietnamese-American community college president in California.
Nguyen has been recommended for the job by Judy Miner, the last president of Foothill and recently named chancellor of the entire Foothill-De Anza Community College District. Miner announced on Thursday her recommendation, which is pending official approval by the district Board of Trustees on May 2.
Nguyen's appointment concludes a national search that began last fall to replace Miner, who had been president of the Los Altos Hills community college since 2007.
"Based on her record of innovation in promoting student access and diversity, I believe that Thuy will lead Foothill College in advancing a culture of student equity and in closing the achievement gap," Miner said in the announcement. "I am confident she will offer the kind of leadership and inspiration that will help the college achieve its most ambitious goals and further enhance the state and national leadership role for which our district is known."
Nguyen came from more humble beginnings: When she was 3 years old, she and her family fled Vietnam after the end of the war, drifting in the Pacific Ocean on a "rickety boat" for more than two weeks before a commercial ship rescued them and took them to a refugee camp in Japan, according to Foothill's announcement.
The family eventually relocated to Wichita, Kansas, but settled in Oakland when Nguyen was 14 years old. The family lived in low-income housing, and Nguyen attended a predominantly African-American and Latino high school, where she "embarked on a path of community leadership and service," the announcement states.
At Castlemont, she served as a student representative on the Oakland Unified School District's Board of Directors, cadet colonel brigade commander in the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, and valedictorian of her class. Upon graduation, the mayor of Oakland declared June 23, 1993, "Thuy Thi Nguyen Day" in recognition of her community service, according to Foothill.
She went on to obtain a bachelor's degree in philosophy at Yale University and attended law school at University of California, Los Angeles.
"Nguyen said she was inspired to pursue a legal career so that she could play a part in correcting social injustice, having seen firsthand the contrast between the 'haves' and 'have nots' in society," the announcement states.
While in law school, Nguyen was selected for a fellowship that provides opportunities for new immigrants to achieve leadership positions in their chosen field, according to Foothill. She was part of the inaugural class in the law school's public-interest law and policy program and earned a juris doctor degree.
Nguyen started her legal career at a firm in Emeryville, providing legal assistance to
school districts on issues such as desegregation, student discipline, bilingual education and employment. She later worked as a field representative for California Assembly Majority Leader Wilma Chan.
In 2003, the Peralta Community College District appointed Nguyen as interim general counsel and soon made the appointment permanent. As general counsel, she represented the interests of the district and its four colleges, Laney College, Merritt College, College of Alameda and Berkeley City College. Over the years she served other roles, including acting vice chancellor for human resources and districtwide strategic planning manager.
Before her assignment in the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, Nguyen took a leave from Peralta to serve for six months as interim president and chief executive officer of the Community College League of California, heading the chief advocacy organization for California community colleges, according to Foothill.
Miner cited as an example of Nguyen's "ability to translate passion and vision into action" efforts to create a pipeline program to help historically underrepresented students get to law school.
As a volunteer on the State Bar of California's Council on Access and Fairness, Nguyen brought together law schools, universities and community colleges to develop the "2+2+3 Community Colleges Pathway to Law School" (which refers to two years in community college, two years in university and three years in law school). The initiative today includes six California law schools, six undergraduate universities, 29 community colleges and 16 high school law academies and "is viewed as a model," Foothill said.
Miner also pointed to Nguyen's leadership at the state Chancellor's Office in moving to an "innovative funding approach that encourages community colleges to assess and strengthen their efforts in equal employment opportunity," the announcement states.
Nguyen has also organized regional training workshops on topics from why diversity in hiring matters to how to address unconscious bias, highlighting evidence that a diverse faculty helps close the student-achievement gap, Foothill said.
Nguyen, who lives in Castro Valley, also has "deep connections" in the East Bay and is well-known in the local Vietnamese community. She co-published a book called "25 Vietnamese Americans in 25 Years" that marked the anniversary of the fall of Saigon by highlighting the contributions 25 Vietnamese Americans made to American society.
Nguyen has also been an educator herself: She worked as an adjunct instructor teaching education law for several years at what is now California State University, East Bay. She also currently serves as board president of the Marcus Foster Education Institute, which promotes excellence and educational opportunity in Oakland public schools.
Her annual salary will start at $188,878, according to Foothill. If approved by the board, she will begin on July 1.