The Power of Community According to Uyen Sou, McNair Scholar

Potrait of Uyen Sou at her desk
Sou coordinates the next middle-school demonstration for EAP.

Just a few short years ago, Uyen Sou was a transfer student from Southern California trying to decide on a four-year university that could foster her academic, professional, and personal growth. She had been hustling her way through community college, supporting herself financially and completing required courses, and finally chose to attend the Davidson College of Engineering. Confident in her choice, she moved to San Jose to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering.


“When I first transferred,” Sou recalls, “I tried to go to every event—engineering-specific, career-focused, meet-ups for student organizations and clubs. It was about finding where I belong at SJSU because I knew how important it is to have a community that understands my struggles and makes me feel comfortable.”


Being proactive paid off quickly. She attended a tabling session about opportunities and resources available for first-generation students like herself. The McNair Scholar Program, a federally-funded program designed to support promising underrepresented college students while they pursued graduate study, caught her eye. And, after introducing herself, it seemed that she had caught the eye of the program; she was officially named a McNair Scholar a few months later. Her determination to successfully complete her degree and pursue further education led her to join the ASPIRE (Academic Support Program for Increased Retention in Education) program, which has provided her with invaluable academic guidance and assistance.


Sou has dedicated her time to inspiring this same drive in future engineering students through her work with the Engineering Ambassador Program (EAP), in which she serves as a student coordinator. For three years this position has allowed her to reach dozens of local elementary, middle school, and high school students and instill in them a love of science.


“EAP is a big part of me,” says Sou. “Immersing myself in its positive messages and supportive community of ambassadors has been the difference between sinking or swimming in my path to earn an engineering degree.”


Stressors that make her feel as though she’s “sinking” include the insecurity and imposter syndrome she sometimes falls prey to. Imposter syndrome, in particular, has been found to be common among women; a 2006 study showed that women are significantly more likely to report imposter fears and self-doubt than their male counterparts.

However, Sou is able to personally overcome these feelings with not only the help of EAP but the constant support of Dr. Maria Cruz, McNair’s program director; Angelina Ochoa Tran, her ASPIRE advisor; and Jeanine Hunter, Aerospace Engineering Professor.


“When I first met Dr. Cruz at the McNair tabling event, she saw something in me that I wasn’t aware of myself. My mentors encourage me to take chances and I feel stronger because of it,” Sou explains.


Now, Sou is a semester away from graduating and she will have gained not just her degree, but also the growth she had initially sought as well as a whole community of long-time supporters in her corner.

(Story and photo by Ashley Cabrera)