"When you're an international student, you kind of have one foot in America but also one foot in your culture. At Bucknell, you feel taken care of. I never feel like I have to be on my own."
In fall 2020, Lam Ngo '22 spent her days at a bustling construction site in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, leading concrete pours and laying the groundwork for a complex of three luxury apartment towers with a retail base — one of the largest development projects now underway in her hometown.
It's only a few miles from where she grew up, but her journey there spanned three continents. And at the heart of it all is her experience living and learning at Bucknell.
A civil engineering and economics major, Ngo craves opportunities to explore the world with her own eyes and learn through face-to-face interaction — not from textbooks. It's a spirit that guides not only how she's taking advantage of the opportunities Bucknell provides, but also how she's approaching her future.
"I look at a career as a way to experience more," she says. "What's interesting about this industry is that you meet so many people and are constantly in contact. I find it very energizing because I like talking to people and hearing them talk about things that they're passionate about."
At Bucknell, she's found the support and connections to unlock those opportunities from day one.
From Vietnam to Lewisburg
Knowing she'd be supported in her journey was a major factor in Ngo's decision to attend Bucknell. When it comes to paying for college, international students aren't eligible for the same federal resources as U.S. students, including federal student loans or work-study. That made scholarships and financial aid all the more important as she chose her college.
"I was advised that Bucknell is one of the most generous schools financially in the U.S. for international students — especially for liberal arts schools with engineering programs," she says.
Financial aid and scholarships did more than help Ngo attend Bucknell. They've continued enabling life-changing experiences every step of the way.
It began with a Presidential Fellowship, a generous scholarship that allowed Ngo to start doing research with her professors from her first semester on campus while providing between $10,000 and $30,000 per year in tuition assistance. Together with Professor Jessica Newlin, civil & environmental engineering, she's exploring ways to better incorporate societal awareness and an inclusive focus in engineering curriculums, with the aim of publishing her work in a peer-reviewed journal.
"It's a four-year program for research," she says. "I thought that was really interesting — I wasn't particularly into research back then, but I liked the chance to get to know more people and was really keen on having one-on-one time with professors."
Those direct interactions with her professors and members of Bucknell's active alumni community have guided Ngo as she maps out her future — one where she's committed to bringing her own ideas and goals into tangible reality.
"A lot of alumni spoke about projects not going the way they wanted because of costs and stakeholders getting in the way," she says. "I decided I want to work my way to being a decision-maker. There's nothing wrong with offering consultation, but I'd like to have more power in the projects that I'm working on."
Ngo came to Bucknell with an interest in environmental science, but she later switched to a civil engineering major, a field where she felt she'd have more control to guide projects rather than offering only consultations. She then added a second major in economics through Bucknell's five-year Dual Engineering & Liberal Arts Program to help her better prepare for a career in leadership and management.
More Lands to Explore
As her interests have evolved, Ngo has taken every opportunity to immerse herself in the subjects she studies, including internships and a yearlong study abroad in the U.K. Bucknell not only helped her connect with those opportunities but also provided tangible support to make them happen.
Through a paid on-campus internship with Bucknell Facilities, Ngo spent the summer after her first year studying building schematics and upgrading lighting fixtures on campus to improve energy efficiency.
Her next summer took her to California, where she worked with the state's Department of Transportation in San Diego through an internship she discovered with help from Bucknell's Center for Career Advancement.
"It's the government, so their work had to be very precise. A lot of my work involved reading up on the code and making sure all the drawings met the standard," she says. "We had to redraw a lot of old bridges since the plans before the '70s were all drawn by hand. You had to redraw them on digital software and then go out and measure them to make sure they matched the plans."
Support for that on-the-ground experience came through the Bucknell Public Interest Program, which offers stipends up to $4,500 for students who have secured full-time, unpaid summer internships in the nonprofit and public service sectors.
In her junior year, Ngo was looking to stretch even further. Inspired by her high school days at the British Vietnamese International School Ho Chi Minh City, she chose to spend the year studying abroad with a Bucknell partner program at the University of Nottingham in England. Her experience was partially supported by Bucknell's Edward McKnight Brawley Fund, which underwrites student activities that promote learning outside the classroom, including study abroad.
While she enjoyed the experience before it was upended by the pandemic, Ngo says studying at a much larger, more urban university also gave her a greater appreciation for the unique opportunities and environment she's found at Bucknell.
"I think it really made me appreciate Bucknell," she says. "Even though it was great to have more independence and meet more people, I found a lot less support in terms of professors, office hours and even in terms of network.
"I used to get a little bit annoyed that the Bucknell career center would send me emails every week," she adds. "When I got to my new university, its career center wouldn't even reach out at all. I think there's a very thick web of interconnections here that I didn't appreciate until I didn't have it."
A Community to Call Home
Due to pandemic travel restrictions, Ngo returned home for a semester following her study abroad, but she continued learning by doing through her construction-industry internship, spending her mornings on the job site and her evenings studying remotely with Bucknell (Vietnam and Lewisburg are 12 hours apart). As she returned to the U.S. in spring 2021, getting back to the community and connections on campus was what she most looked forward to.
"I always found community around me," she says. "There are niche communities everywhere — the LGBT community, the international community, Vietnamese community, the Black Engineering Society.
"When you're an international student, you kind of have one foot in America but also one foot in your culture. Those communities make it special. At Bucknell you feel taken care of. I never feel like I have to be on my own."