Hoang Tran’s life has been anything but easy.
The son of immigrant parents from Vietnam, the 25-year-old Cal State San Bernardino student and his family have lived barely making ends meet, surviving on welfare. On top of that, Tran had to help his father care for his ailing mother, who was left paralyzed and crippled by a disease of the brain and spine.
Yet Tran is determined to make a better life for himself and his family by being the first in his family to go to college and earn a degree.
“I struggled at first with my studies and lacked the focus and persistence needed to learn,” Tran said. “However, I have learned from my mistakes and developed the maturity and determination to achieve my academic and professional goals.”
His drive, diligence and hard work have led to him receiving one of the California State University system’s highest honors: the prestigious CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement, and the initial recipient of the newly established Kenneth Fong Scholarship for his outstanding achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Tran is one of 23 students from the CSU system to receive the trustees’ award.
The students represent every campus in the CSU system — prevailing through poverty, physical and mental illness, disability, language and cultural barriers, intense personal loss, addiction, homelessness and abusive or absentee guardians to become researchers, mentors, counselors, advocates, volunteers and leaders.
“Receiving the CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement would provide me with the support I need to achieve my goal of becoming a compassionate primary care physician with low-income immigrants like my family,” Tran said.
Tran, who has a 3.5 grade point average and has consistently made the dean’s list while majoring in nutrition and food sciences, credits coming to CSUSB as being a catalyst to succeed.
“Going to Cal State San Bernardino has been one of the best choices I have made in my life because it allowed me to meet similar peers who are first in their family to go to college,” Tran said. “And there are faculty members that are understanding and patient with their students.”
Tran says he wants to be a primary care doctor because there aren’t enough doctors to provide general health care in low-income communities, and it would be rewarding to him to give back to the community.
His parents were born and raised in Phu Quoc, an island off the coast of Vietnam. His father was a fisherman who would catch anchovies to make fish sauce. His mother was the daughter of the man who used the anchovies to make the fish sauce. Neither parent had any formal education while growing up because the island was underdeveloped.
During the Vietnam War, his parents immigrated to the United States, leaving behind their families and way of life.
But life was not easy for the family. Tran’s parents have always been poor since coming to the United States. His parents, hard-working people, did anything to take care of their family, including working in a cramped garment factory, but it wasn’t enough.
“I remember having welfare, food stamps and Medi-Cal when I was growing up,” Tran said.
Life turned for the worst when Tran’s mother was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease of the brain and spinal cord that prevents her from speaking and moving.
“My mother has been like this for 14 years and it’s been so long that I can barely remember what her voice sounds like because this happened when I was a child,” Tran said. “The only sounds she can make sometimes are only grunt noises or a yelling noise.”
When his mother was in hospice, the attending physician estimated that she had about two more years to live. After hearing that, there was no one at the facility who would answer his many questions about his mother’s condition.
Tran’s father became her primary caregiver, doing everything for her. Tran said he does what he can to help his father, including translating for him or filling out paperwork as his father cannot read or speak English very well.
Tran also has a strong sense of volunteer work, and is currently assisting at a hospice in Glendale.
“I’ve been volunteering there for two years now, and what I do is visit terminally ill patients to give support and companionship,” Tran said. “I wanted to be part of hospice because I remember when my mother had it she was taken care of really well. I knew some of the difficulties a family can go through, and after meeting some of these families it made me more aware of the amount of people who have a terminal illness and have nobody to visit them or take care of them.
“Helping these families and their loved ones is a rewarding experience, because I would want somebody to take good care of my mother,” Tran said. “Other community service I do is with clubs that I am a part of, which are the Nutrition Student Association and the National Health Education Honorary Society.”
He has also volunteered with Camp Conrad-Chinnock, a camp for children up to 18 years of age with diabetes, and also Fight For Air Walk in Riverside. He is currently in the process of becoming a volunteer at Loma Linda University Medical Center and Arrowhead Regional Medical Center.
He also wants to help youths by joining Big Brother and Big Sister programs.
“I was the youngest and the only boy in the family. When I had role models that were like big brothers to me, they helped make me who I am today, and it makes a big difference to the individual,” Tran said. “I know the importance of a role model that you can spend time with and talk to, so I would like to be a big brother to someone.”
For more information on Hoang Tran, contact the CSUSB Office of Public Affairs at (909) 537-5007 and visit news.csusb.edu.