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Vietnamese Student Excels at Oklahoma Technical College Through Use of Technology and Pursuit of the American Dream


Thanh Phan grew up in a small town in Vietnam where he provided for his wife and son by doing nails at a salon. Thanh knew that he wanted more for his family and himself, so he decided that he wanted to move to America to pursue the American dream.

His brother had already made the move and was living in Jenks, Oklahoma. When Thanh shared his dreams with his brother, the two began the paperwork needed for Thanh and his family to move the United States.

It took 12 years for Thanh to complete the needed paperwork for his family to relocate, but Thanh never lost hope or gave up. He worked tirelessly to achieve his dream of living in America. His hard work paid off and Thanh and his family moved from Vietnam to Jenks, OK in January of 2015.

That was just the first step in Thanh’s journey.

Thanh and his family moved in with his brother and began planning for their new lives. Thanh decided that he no longer wanted to do nails, he wanted to become an Automotive Technician. He found out about the Automotive Technology program at Oklahoma Technical College and decided to check it out.

Thanh spoke very little English and had a hard time communicating, but he didn’t let that stop him from pursuing his new career goal. He scheduled a tour to meet with admissions, financial aid and the automotive faculty to see how he could make his dream a reality. While Thanh struggled communicating in English, we didn’t want to let it be a barrier to his making his dream a reality, and neither did Automotive Department Head, Tony Muglia. Tony asked Thanh to join him for a few classes before enrolling to ensure they could both find the best way to communicate before he started the program. Thanh excitedly accepted and sat-in on a few classes before he decided to enroll in June of 2015.

Automotive Student at Oklahoma Technical College

Thanh Phan and his Automotive Instructor, Tony Muglia, had to get creative when it came to communicating.

Thanh was learning more English every day, and Tony spent time working before and after class to help Thanh better understand the material. They experimented with different learning techniques, trying to find the right fit to help their communication with each other, and they found the perfect solution. Tony would wear an earpiece each day that was connected to his phone. Through the ear piece, Tony was able to text Thanh the lessons and questions for each section so Thanh could understand what they were learning.

This method worked perfectly for Thanh. Through Tony’s creative learning solution and Thanh’s unmatched diligence, he excelled through the entire program, continuously making the honor roll each month. When Thanh graduated in February of 2016, he did so with an A average and perfect attendance.

Thanh’s dedication to his studies was apparent to anyone who talked to him. So much so, that through a brief conversation with Kim Brown, Service Manager at Don Carlton Acura of Tulsa, he landed a part-time position at Acura when he was only halfway through the automotive program. Thanh worked at Acura on Saturdays while attending college and working at a nail salon Monday – Friday to provide for his family.

He is now a full-time employee at Don Carlton Acura, has his own apartment and just welcomed a beautiful baby girl.

“It was such an extreme pleasure to teach someone that had such a desire to change his life,” said Muglia. “Thanh and I will remain friends for life.”

Stories like Thanh’s inspire us every day, and students like him are why Community HigherEd exists, to reward hard work and support the efforts of those trying to better themselves. We want to break the cycle of poverty and create more stories with happy endings. Learn more about how your support impacts students like Thahn or donate to a scholarship today.

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