Julie Nguyen sitting on grass with her legs crossed. In the background is a road and rows of homes in a suburban looking area.
Julie Nguyen found VCU School of Education's M.Ed. in Counselor Education an attractive option for graduate school due to its concentration specifically for college counseling and student affairs. (Courtesy of Julie Nguyen)

For future counselor Julie Nguyen, ‘everything just seemed to align’ in counselor education program

First-generation graduate student, seeking greater representation in college counseling, finds academic and cultural fit at the VCU School of Education.

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Julie Nguyen’s parents emigrated from Vietnam following the fall of Saigon in 1975 and eventually settled in Northern Virginia. They didn’t speak English when they first arrived. Her mom had been one of the thousands of refugees who fled their homeland by boat, enduring a dangerous journey on the open sea.

Nguyen and her three siblings went to school in Northern Virginia, where they learned English. When they were at home, they spoke Vietnamese, celebrated Vietnamese holidays and attended church with other Asian American immigrants. The experience proved to be very valuable, Nguyen said. Not only were the four children bilingual, but they were exposed to different cultures socially while developing a deeper appreciation of their own Vietnamese heritage.

“Whether we were Vietnamese, Chinese or Korean, we still had shared experiences among our different cultural groups at church,” Nguyen said. “I can’t imagine who I would be today if I had grown up in an environment that was predominantly white. I appreciate that early exposure to different cultures, knowing that there are other students like me from different backgrounds.”

Two girls on the right, a woman holding a little boy in the center, and a boy on the far right.
Julie Nguyen as a child (bottom left), with her mom and three siblings. (Courtesy of Julie Nguyen)

Nguyen soon found that growing up in an Asian American household meant that mental health was often a taboo subject.

“Mental health was never really acknowledged by older adults in my family,” she said. “There was always a big focus on physical health, even when it came to choosing a career.”

The more she felt a push to become a doctor, a surgeon or a dentist, the more Nguyen pursued the field of mental health. In 2021, she earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in psychology and cognitive science, with a concentration in linguistics.

She continued her research into the mental health field after graduation, eventually focusing on the counseling profession. From her own experience, she knew that a first-generation Asian American student away at college for the first time could benefit greatly from having a college counselor. Her research also revealed that there is little Asian American representation among college counselors.

When she began considering graduate schools, she knew that she wanted a different environment from the small-town feel of Charlottesville. She liked the more diverse, urban environment that VCU and Richmond provided. Then she saw something that made it all click.

“The VCU School of Education had a concentration specifically for college counseling and student affairs,” she said. “A lot of other schools didn’t have that specific track, and it was the population that I was particularly interested in. Everything just seemed to align.”

I really like the diversity here. I feel that I’ve been getting a lot of exposure to different cultures and different experiences, which is really important to me as a future counselor.

Julie Nguyen, M.Ed. in Counseling student

Nguyen started VCU’s M.Ed. in Counselor Education program last fall and has been impressed.

“Many of the faculty are well known in the counseling field, and I’m extremely lucky to be able to connect and network with them,” she said. “I especially like the interaction between doctoral students and master’s students. There’s no separation or hierarchy, which is really nice to see.”

She’s also impressed with the cultural variety of VCU and Richmond.

“More broadly, I really like the diversity here. I feel that I’ve been getting a lot of exposure to different cultures and different experiences, which is really important to me as a future counselor,” she said.