Skip to content

New grad cherishes Jayhawk identity

Uniting students is a passion for young alumnus Thanh Tan Nguyen.

by Megan Hirt
Thanh Tan Nguyen

For the three and a half years he was a KU student, Thanh Tan Nguyen strived not only to make the most of his time on Mount Oread, but also to enrich the college experience for fellow Jayhawks. With leadership roles in Student Union Activities (SUA) and on the Homecoming Steering Committee, among other organizations, Nguyen helped foster Jayhawk kinship, uphold traditions and contribute to what he describes as the “social effervescence” on campus.

But it was a fleeting encounter outside Kansas that solidified Nguyen’s own sense of belonging to the Jayhawk flock. On a visit to Estes Park, Colorado, with friends, Nguyen recalls the delight in hearing a warm “Rock Chalk!” from a passerby who noticed Nguyen’s KU cap. “That moment where a complete stranger greeted me really gave me a sense of identity that I never had before,” says Nguyen, who graduated with honors in December with a bachelor’s degree in business analytics and supply chain management. “It made me realize I share something in common with anyone who has attended KU, regardless of their background.”

Nguyen grew up in the city of Tuy Hoa in Vietnam’s Phu Yen province, where he lived with his family above the shoe store his parents owned. He started learning English at age 7 and knew early on he wanted to attend college in the United States. A self-professed lover of data and efficiency, Nguyen was initially drawn to KU because of the business analytics program in the School of Business. Heartfelt support bumped KU to the top of his list. “The international admissions staff were really caring,” he says. “They reached out before I even knew what I needed help with, and they also connected me with an alum who was from my high school. That was one of the turning points.”

Another came during his first semester, in fall 2020, when he spotted an SUA booth outside his dorm, Lewis Hall. At the time, COVID-19 had halted most student activities. “I found out that somebody was still fighting for students to feel like they got the college experience,” Nguyen says of SUA. “And as soon as I knew that, I knew I had to give back.”

Nguyen remained part of SUA throughout his time at KU, eventually serving as executive director, and says his involvement helped him adapt to a new culture and become a better active listener—“helping people feel safe around you and feel like they can share their stories,” he says. Of the hundreds of campus events he had a hand in, a standout for Nguyen was the 2022 Kansas Drag Showcase. “I loved bringing people together to celebrate different communities on campus,” he says. “This annual event aims to amplify the LGBTQ+ community’s voices at KU and advocate for their inclusion.”

At halftime of the Homecoming football game Oct. 28, Nguyen was one of two students (along with Libby Frost of WaKeeney) who received KU’s 2023 ExCEL Award, presented by Konica Minolta. The annual honor recognizes outstanding leadership, involvement and academics.

As a winner of KU’s 2023 ExCEL Award, Nguyen received a class ring from Jostens. His custom ring features his zodiac constellation (Leo), and engraved on the inside are the names of Nguyen, his parents and his grandma.

Nguyen is now preparing to pursue graduate studies and says he’d ultimately like to work in the field of artificial intelligence. No matter where life may take him, a continued devotion to KU is a certainty. “I always plan to be connected to KU and to give back to help future students achieve their dreams,” he says. As a student, Nguyen benefited from donations given through KU Endowment’s annual 24-hour fundraising campaign, One Day. One KU, and from mentorship through KU Mentoring+, part of the Jayhawk Career Network. He intends to donate and volunteer as an alumnus, and also hopes to be an ambassador for KU, encouraging college-bound students to consider a home on the Hill, a place that for Nguyen fueled possibility and inspired pride.

“I started as a stranger to KU—my blood was only crimson; there was no blue in there,” he laughs. “But now I am all crimson and blue.”

Megan Hirt, c’08, j’08, is assistant editor of Kansas Alumni magazine.

Photos by Steve Puppe

Issue 1, 2024


Business, Students
You may also like: