First-Generation Student Wins NASA Scholarship

Nhat Pham

First-generation mechanical engineering student Nhat Pham was just awarded a $3000 scholarship from NASA’s Connecticut Space Grant Consortium.

After immigrating to the United States in 2010, Pham has faced an uphill climb. “My parents only have high school diplomas, and never had a chance to go to college,” says Pham. “I’m very grateful for the help that they had provided me; that’s why I am working two jobs and going to college, with the hope that I’m not a financial burden for them, while trying to make a better future for generations to come.”

He has lived in the Bridgeport area for the past decade, and seeing the Sikorsky helicopters flying over his house inspired him to become a mechanical engineer. He attended Housatonic Community College, and in October 2019, through Great Minds in STEM, he spoke to disadvantaged high school students at an event at Stratford High School, giving them tips to find opportunities, and telling them what he would have done differently during his own education.

“I, too, came from a disadvantaged background, and it took years of my life to realize it,” he says. “It was a very satisfying feeling to build machines with them, and show them that STEM isn’t just about the number or the test scores. Everyone can make a difference.”

After two years at Housatonic Community College, he enrolled at the University of Bridgeport in Spring 2020. Since then, he has been active in the Aerospace Club and founded the UB American Society of Mechanical Engineers student chapter. He works two jobs in addition to his full-time class load, earning straight “As” in his major. During summer 2020, he worked a double internship, one at Marmon Utility-Kerite Company and one at Eastern Tech Company.

In fall 2020, he joined UB’s Student Payload Opportunity With Citizen Science (SPOCS) project, in which he and the rest of the team built the automated vessel that could hold the experiment created by high school students at Stamford High School. “Nhat is extremely reliable and calm under pressure,” says Dr. Jani Macari Pallis, Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering. “He is a wonderful team member and is very serious about pursuing a career at NASA, NOAA, or in the aerospace industry.”

He modestly credits UB’s professors for his success. “All the professors of the Mechanical Engineering department, and the whole engineering school, helped inspire and guide me so that I could have a chance to get this scholarship,” says Pham. The scholarship will help him pay off some of his student loans, and he hopes that his experience will inspire others to achieve more. “I hope that it will encourage more students, especially one with disadvantaged backgrounds, to pursue a STEM career,” he says.

He dreams of working at Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky, a local company with a history of hiring graduates from the University of Bridgeport. No doubt this committed first-generation student will get his chance.