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How Cal Poly Prepared Recent Alumna Sydney Nguyen For Her Career in Design (Q+A)

Sydney Nguyen
Sydney Nguyen (Comparative Ethnic Studies, '20)

"By harnessing the work, organizing, and values, focus that energy into the building and healing of our communities – especially the marginalized. Because our wounds have never healed, and our foundation is broken. Amplify our voices. Lead unapologetically and empathetically. It's always about putting other’s needs before your fears."  - Sydney Nguyen (Comparative Ethnic Studies, '20)

 What did you love most about your experience at Cal Poly?  

In my five years at Cal Poly, some of the most valuable moments I’ve had in my time were learning from the brilliant minds of students, professors, and mentors, teaching me to always lead unapologetically and empathetically. Working with an array of student organizations and leaders, I’ve learned that leadership and empathy lie in the practice of caring for communities around you. From having listened to personal stories of adversity and resilience in student-led workshops, classroom discussions on critical theory, and creating works of art and literature that engages us to be active citizens, these are moments to be caring. I especially loved my courses and mentors in the Ethnic Studies department and students activist organizations, MCC, CAED Diversity + Inclusivity Committee, Decolonizing Sustainability, Queering Migrations, etc, because these groups of folx allowed me to envision and embody what a healthy and loving community could be.

As a designer, these are important skills and privileges to live by —having the self-love for ourselves, understanding multi-faceted contexts, and being sensitive, hopeful, and responsive to the world around us. These generous people and resources have provided me their welcoming love that inspired my education, one that could never be taken away from me. 

How did Cal Poly prepare you for your current job? 

At Cal Poly, I have participated in opportunities that seem unlikely when merged, specifically around social justice, design, and the built environment. This blend allowed me to challenge conventional ways of thinking and further pushed me to design the type of futures that local communities need, which currently led me to be a freelance creative. Navigating 2020 can be painful, but if anything valuable to take out of it is always to remain resilient and hopeful, shifting mindsets to create opportunities from adversity. Cal Poly has certainly provided me confidence and values in being critical and caring for unpredictable situations, as a means to shape the equitable, just, and beautiful world we want to live in.

In being a freelance creative, I’ve taken lessons and experiences learned to lead the type of work I am interested in and create visions and strategies with non-profits, businesses, and teams that share the same values with me. From having the honor to lead the CAED Diversity & Inclusivity Committee, I’ve networked with student leaders across campus organizations and build workshop curriculums, and policy plans that advocate the needs of BIPOC students in the college. Taken on lessons from Ethnic Studies and Sustainability, I’ve conducted research and project management that increases student public engagement and education in these intersectional disciplines that are needed now more than ever.

These privileges and experiences —to co-create, dream, draw, write, listen, sculpt, organize, and design— have helped me create seemingly nonexistent futures to exist and thrive. Cal Poly has prepared me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, be continually critical and caring, and strive to lead authentically and empathetically wherever I go.  

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