Grad Q&A with Donaghey scholar Jeannie Kuang-Nguyen

Jeannie Kuang-Nguyen

Meet Jeannie Kuang-Nguyen, Donaghey scholar and science scholar who’s a pre-med student set to graduate with a degree in chemistry. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock will celebrate the graduation of Kuang-Nguyen and hundreds of other students during commencement ceremonies Saturday, May, 13, at the Jack Stephens Center.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I went Wilbur D. Mills High School in Little Rock and was the valedictorian of my class. My parents live in Sherwood, Arkansas. I lived on the UA Little campus all four years because I did not want to commute.

Why did you choose UA Little Rock?

I originally wanted to go out of state, but when I received a full scholarship from the Donaghey Scholars program, it solidified my decision to stay in state. My friends told me I could have gone to school anywhere, but I think it’s what you make of the opportunity. My experience at UA Little Rock exceeded my expectations.

How did you become a Donaghey scholar?

My AP literature teacher at Mills was a former Donaghey scholar and recommended I apply for the program. I was looking for in-state options with a full scholarship. I turned in my essays the day they were due. I got a call, then an interview. On a Thursday after a soccer game, I got an email from Pomona College that said I was accepted. Then I found out I got accepted into the Donaghey scholar program!

Why did you major in chemistry?

My eighth-grade science teacher suggested I take AP chemistry in high school prior to taking biology. The exam for AP chemistry is one of the hardest. I enjoy chemistry because it involves mathematics and logic. It requires critical thinking skills because you have to take steps to get to the right answer.

How would your professors describe you?

Most would say that I’m a good student who likes to help in the office. I’m involved in a lot of clubs, and I’m the president of the Chemistry Club.

Under what conditions do you study best?

I can study in a noisy Starbucks or a quiet environment. However, If the environment is not clean, I’ll start cleaning it. When I was growing up, I studied at the dining room table and could hear food being prepared in the kitchen. That’s how I learned how to drown out noise and focus.

What were your favorite subjects?

I enjoyed chemistry and biology. Physics, not so much. Organic chemistry requires you to think. You can’t just memorize – you have to figure out how to solve a puzzle. With each step, a reaction occurs. You can apply different steps to get a different reaction.

Who were some of your mentors?

Dr. Tito Viswanathan (Dr. Tito) opened my eyes to research and showed me how organic chemistry works. Dr. Brian Berry (Organic 2 Chemistry lab) was always available. The Donaghey Scholars faculty and staff (Dr. Simon Hawkins, Dr. Jessica Scott, and Jennifer Knight) were always there if you needed to vent. Also Dr. Janet Lanza and Dr. Jim Winter helped me get through tough courses and reminded me of my abilities.

How did your major influence your career interests?

I’ve always known I wanted to go to medical school. Organic chemistry helped me develop critical-thinking skills which doctors need to make diagnoses.

What kind of medicine do you want to practice?

Either pediatrics or ob-gyn. I got interested in surgery because of the medical reality TV shows.

What was your biggest challenge in college?

Managing my time wisely. My third year of college was the hardest. I was on the student committee for the Donaghey Scholars program, participating in intramural sports (soccer, volleyball), and taking science classes. I was studying more than 40 hours a week, and even while I was eating out with my friends.

How do you relieve stress?

I do a lot of things to relieve stress such as run and lift weights with my friends. I like hiking Pinnacle Mountain and exploring the River Market in Little Rock.

What was the toughest decision you had to make?

The toughest decision was to take a break before going to med school. I just got a temporary job at Loreal as a chemist and will spend my free time studying for the MCAT. I’m going to Oaxaca, Mexico, for three weeks this summer to improve my Spanish.

What would you have done differently in college?

I would have pursued a Spanish major. I studied abroad for five weeks in Salamanca, Spain, and loved it.

What advice would you give to upcoming students?

Keep trying and don’t give up. Remember to have fun, but not too much fun. Do what you love, and don’t choose something just for the money.

— Compiled by Toni Boyer Stewart

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