Enrolling at Columbia Basin College was the first step Doreen Marvin and Hieu Pham took to achieve their very different dreams.
And both took long roads to get there.
Pham, 20, left his native Vietnam to pursue higher education in the Tri-Cities. Marvin, 52, took three decades after graduating from high school to earn a degree.
Their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. They will be honored March 24 in Olympia as CBC’s All-USA Academic All Stars for 2016.
Pham earned an associate degree in computer science last fall and Marvin will finish her degree this spring, with an eye toward business administration.
“They’re outstanding representatives of what the community college system is able to help create,” said CBC President Rich Cummins.
They’re outstanding representatives of what the community college system is able to help create.
CBC President Rich Cummins
Marvin, a single mother, moved to the Tri-Cities with two young daughters in 2004. She found work as a receptionist in a commercial garage in Pasco, and over the years, worked her way up to office manager. But she still struggled financially and found that her lack of a college degree limited her options.
She’d planned to go to college after finishing high school, but life got in the way.
“My year off turned into 32 years off,” she told the Herald.
Pham arrived in the region in late 2013 and moved in with a cousin already living in the Tri-Cities. It was a move made strictly to be able to study computers, he said, because his options for a quality education in his home country were limited.
“In America, there’s a lot of opportunity, more than in Vietnam,” he said.
In America, there’s a lot of opportunity, more than in Vietnam.
Hieu Pham, CBC student
Each faced challenges as they pursued their degrees.
Marvin first enrolled at CBC in 2005, but dropped out soon after because of the demands on her time from two children. It was when her youngest daughter was close to finishing high school in 2013 that Marvin re-enrolled.
She also worried about being back in a classroom after so many years away, but quickly found she relished her time on campus.
“At my age, you’d think you’d know a lot but there’s a lot you don’t know,” she said.
While Pham has a brother studying at Brigham Young University in Utah, he said it was hard to leave behind his parents and girlfriend in Vietnam for a chance at a degree.
His limited English presented another hurdle. He also didn’t have a car and spent four hours a day walking or taking a bus to get to and from classes.
We create access for individuals who may not have an easy path.
CBC President Rich Cummins
The All-USA Academic All Stars sponsored by the Phi Theta Kappa honor society at community colleges around Washington and the nation.
All CBC students are eligible but only those with a 3.5 grade-point average and on track to earn an associate degree are considered. Cummins selects the winners, who then become eligible for a national award.
Intended to highlight exemplary academic achievement and involvement on campus, Cummins said each year’s winners regularly demonstrate the critical role that community colleges provide for those wanting to pursue an education.
Now, though, they said they don’t plan to stop their educations.
Pham is currently back in Vietnam awaiting word on his applications to several universities to pursue a bachelor’s in computer science. He said he really wants to work in artificial intelligence and ultimately have his own company.
“It could be in the U.S. or Vietnam, I just want to pursue that dream,” he said.
It’s a domino effect. The better you do the more you want to do.
Doreen Marvin, CBC student
Marvin just started a new job as a finance analyst for Lamb Weston in Kennewick, and she said her new employer is supportive of her finishing her associate degree.
But she’s planning to go for a bachelor’s in business administration, possibly at Washington State University Tri-Cities, and maybe even a master’s a little further down the line.
“It’s a domino effect,” she said. “The better you do the more you want to do.”