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Johnnie Nguyen

CU DENVER STUDENT AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say CU Denver sophomore Johnnie Nguyen is one of the busiest students on Auraria Campus. He’s juggling extensive volunteer work, political internships, and schoolwork.

Part of his determination may be from a personal connection to the work he’s doing. “My parents were immigrants from Vietnam,” Nguyen said. “Growing up hearing their stories all the time, I realized how privileged I am to be here in the United States.”

“I realized at these political events I was one of the only few Asians there.”

—Johnnie Nguyen

Political Science major | College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Not only has this fueled his own interest, it has also driven him to get other students involved. “I’m currently serving as the vice chair at the College Caucus of Young Democrats of America, and I’m the secretary of the Denver Young Democrats,” Nguyen said. “Our main goal is to fight youth apathy in politics.” To that end, they focus on issues like LGBT discrimination and skyrocketing tuition costs, which students are rarely apathetic about.

In addition to students, he’s also hoping to increase the participation of Asian-Americans. “I realized at these political events I was one of the only few Asians there,” Nguyen said. “It really taught me that Asian-Americans don’t have a lot of a voice in politics.”

His first major involvement with politics was the UNICEF program at his high school. He and his best friend joined when it seemed to be on its last legs. “The student organization at our school had about seven people in it, and it was just really failing,” Nguyen said. “It was probably going to die the next year.”

They worked to revitalize the program, talking to the school board to do so. Those talks allowed them to add the incentive of a white stole, to be presented at graduation, for students who volunteered with the program. “After we graduated, there were about 30 students in the membership,” Nguyen said.

Despite the long interest in politics, Nguyen initially studied medicine. In preparation, he did more volunteer work, which led him back to politics. “Now, to get into medical school, it isn’t just GPA and MCAT anymore,” Nguyen said. “It’s also your philanthropy projects, where else you are working to help your community. I was more inspired by that part than the actual science.”

Through his volunteer work at Swedish hospital, Nguyen met a nurse who introduced him to CU Denver Regent Michael Carrigan. The two hit it off. “I feel like I’m one of the luckiest students in the entire world, because I get to have such a great mentor like him,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen now works for Carrigan’s campaign for District Attorney. “He’s held my hand through this whole process, he’s been there for me, he’s forgiven me a lot for the times I messed up on his campaign,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen is also interning with Colorado Senator Andy Kerr. “Right now, there’s a lot of bills going through the legislature about diversity, and I look forward to testifying on those,” Nguyen said.

All this extracurricular work can be overwhelming at times. “I’m not the best at time management, and I do burn myself out sometimes,” Nguyen said. Still, he is positive. “I’m getting so much out of it it doesn’t even feel like work.”

—Gideon Simons

Above: Johnnie Nguyen is an active student leader at CU Denver.

photo: Sarai Nissan • CU Denver Sentry

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