Scholar Graduate Jimmy Nguyen Blazing Trail at Clarkson College

In three years, Jimmy Nguyen has gone from thinking higher education was not possible to earning a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at QLI, an Omaha area rehabilitation center that specializes in neurological injury diagnoses, to making the dean’s list and completing a Physical Therapy Assistant associate’s degree at Clarkson College. He’s now enrolled in a bachelor’s PTA program with an eye on pre-med studies.

In his transformational journey from aimless to aspirational he became the first Avenue Scholar to attend and graduate from training partner Clarkson College. A second Scholar, Cole Michael Nebel, is also enrolled in the Clarkson program and is also excelling.

Clarkson PTA Program Director Jessica Niemann admires how Jimmy is thriving.

“He really did have to be a trailblazer with being the first Avenue Scholar at Clarkson College in our program. He really did pave his own way,” says Niemann.

Jimmy was a Papillion-LaVista High School senior when a counselor introduced him to AS. He wasn’t sure he belonged. Student Support Manager Ashley Knott, (then the High School Career Coach at Papio), helped change his mind. He went from an unmotivated, underachieving student to posting a 3.85 GPA.

“She was the first person that told me she believed in me – that I was smart enough to go to college. They offered me a scholarship to go to Metro. That’s really what got me going. I thought to myself, maybe I’ll give this a try because they want to help me out and maybe I can become something great. It was an opportunity. That’s all I needed was an opportunity.” 

During a meeting to discuss career goals, Jimmy suddenly found himself articulating what he wanted to do: physical therapy.

“My Postsecondary Career Coach, Tonya Fairgood, had never heard me say that before. It came as a very big surprise. That’s when they put me in the CNA program at QLI. I started working there and I still work there. I did very well in the CNA program. Then Tonya offered me a scholarship and an opportunity at Clarkson, where I could train in physical therapy.”

He found it “inspiring” how QLI staff assist patients, “progressing in their journey to regain mobility and independence,” adding he knew right then he’d made the right choice.

“The main reason why I want to become a physical therapist and work in healthcare is helping other people. It’s very satisfying. I love making that patient-provider connection. It’s very important in my practice.”

He’s far from done.

“I want to continue my higher education and training to be able to treat those more complex cases of patients. Going to school really ingrained in my mind scientific, evidence-based practice. What better way to carry it out than by pursuing higher education? In physical therapy I help people with replaced knees and hips or recovering from spinal surgeries, fusions. I love learning about best rehab practices and helping patients do rehab and return to their normal functions. My next goal is being able to do that surgery by becoming an orthopedic surgeon.”

Fairgood has enjoyed seeing him grow in confidence and ambition. “It’s amazing. He wants to keep climbing. I respect that. I encourage that.”

Clarkson’s Jessica Niemann says, “I think the sky’s the limit. Whatever he sets his mind to, he can absolutely do it. He’s an independent learner now. He loves learning. He is dedicated, committed.”

Jimmy appreciates the support AS has provided. “Tonya’s always been there to help me through school because I’m essentially a first-gen student. My older sister tried going to college and it was very hard because of the money aspect. I had no idea how college worked. Tonya’s always been that back up to help me through the process – applications, resume reviews, personal statements. She advised me through all my work. She got me into Clarkson and into QLI. She’s a very big player in this experience.”

See More Interviews and Profiles from Avenue Scholars: