A Dream Fulfilled

Alumna’s opportunities snowballed thanks to Hong Kong scholarship fund 

By Kat Braz

Photograph of Vy Vuong

The first time Vy Vuong ’19 experienced a snowfall, she rushed outside to play in the softly falling flakes. For this first-year student hailing from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, frolicking in the snow was somewhat of a bucket-list experience. Vuong remembers her friends laughing about her enthusiasm for the flurries. But for Vuong, the first recipient of the Barnard Club of Hong Kong scholarship fund, every experience at Barnard felt like a treasured gift.

“I hadn’t considered studying abroad because I knew my parents could never afford the tuition, especially at a private college in the United States,” Vuong recalls. “But then a lot of my high school classmates were applying to U.S. schools, and my parents were supportive, although we knew I’d need scholarship assistance to attend. So I applied and took my chances.”

Vuong wanted to pursue a major in biology, but she was also interested in history and psychology. The combination of Barnard’s women-centered education and its partnership with Columbia appealed to her.

“I liked the idea of a small, liberal arts college where I could have a mix of smaller classes in different subjects but also take advantage of the facilities and resources of a large university like Columbia,” says Vuong. “You don’t have that opportunity in Vietnam. There, you take an entrance exam and are put into a study track without a lot of options. If you decide to change your major, you have to start the process all over again.”  

When Barnard notified Vuong that not only was she accepted for enrollment but was also the recipient of the Barnard Club of Hong Kong scholarship, she was overjoyed. 

“The scholarship opened the door to a world of amazing opportunities for me,” Vuong says. “Because of the financial assistance, I was able to enjoy my four years of college.”

Throughout her time at Barnard, Vuong shared updates with Christine Mar ’65, who founded the Barnard Club of Hong Kong. Mar spearheaded a fundraising effort and, in partnership with Angela Bow '85, P'19, helped establish an endowed scholarship fund to provide assistance to students from Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam to attend Barnard. Nearly $300,000 has been raised for the Fund from a core group of committed Barnard alumnae and friends in Hong Kong. Recipients are chosen by the College during the admissions process.

“Vy is remarkable,” Mar says. “Her first semester, I offered to send her money for snow boots. She comes from a very hot climate, and New York is cold, she’s going to need snow boots. She thanked me, but she’d already bought a pair online. She was prepared. I thought, ‘She’s going to be just fine.’”

At Barnard, Vuong made the dean’s list, became active in student organizations, and worked as a research assistant. She’s now a lab technician in the Arlotta Lab in the department of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard University, assisting scientists in their pursuit to better understand the development of the human brain’s cerebral cortex using organoids — self-organized 3-D tissue culture derived from stem cells. She has aspirations to one day earn her Ph.D. in biology. She still shares updates with Mar every Lunar New Year. 

“Without her help, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Vuong says. “I have the opportunity to assist scientists with their research. I went from Barnard to a majority-women lab environment where I can thrive. As a scientist, I’m energized by the discovery process. There are so many things to be explored, so many things we still don’t know. That might be a little scary, but it’s also very exciting for me.”

She’s fully adjusted to life in New England, too.  

“Boston has lots of snowstorms,” Vuong says. “I no longer find them that exciting."

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The extraordinary class of 2021 sets off on their next adventure.