Student involvement forges Galang “Gigi” Nguyen into a leader

by | Dec 9, 2019

Being president of the Student Nurses Association and treasurer of Minority Student Nurses Association made the nursing student's final semester her best.
College of Nursing student Galang "Gigi" Nguyen will graduate this month with a College of Nursing Leadership Award in recognition of her roles at the Student Nurses Association and Minority Student Nurses Association. (Photo by August Jennewein)

College of Nursing student Galang “Gigi” Nguyen will graduate this month with a College of Nursing Leadership Award in recognition of her roles at the Student Nurses Association and Minority Student Nurses Association. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Galang “Gigi” Nguyen has always been a good student. But it wasn’t until her last semester at the University of Missouri–St. Louis that the BSN student felt like a dynamo.

The reason? Lots of extra responsibility.

That took the form of dual roles in the College of Nursing’s student groups: president of Student Nurses Association and treasurer of the Minority Student Nurses Association. Through those experiences, Nguyen found her passion in leadership.

But she’s not the only one who has recognized her growth, accomplishments and contributions to fellow students. When Nguyen graduates in December, she’ll be doing so with a College of Nursing Leadership Award and as a member of Sigma Theta Tau, the nursing honors society.

Nguyen was surprised and honored to receive the award, but it’s the experience and new skills she’ll be taking with her after school.

“I want to do something where I can be in leadership,” Nguyen said. “I never realized how much I’ve grown in my leadership roles. As the president and as treasurer, I had to be a planner. I had to be organized. I have to make sure that each event goes smoothly and accordingly. I feel accomplished when I am able to check things off in my planner every day and it definitely made me really good at prioritizing. I didn’t even know I liked being organized until now.”

Nguyen became active in SNA two semesters ago. A friend ran for a leadership position and inspired her to as well, and Nguyen became the volunteer coordinator. The experience was positive, but Nguyen soon wanted to do more.

One of the first things that she did as president was clarify the duties of each role on the leadership team, which has allowed the group to work effectively and more collaboratively. That shows because they’ve gotten a lot done in a single semester.

They’ve maintained SNA’s regular programs, volunteering with the Ronald McDonald House Charities and the Alliance for Period Supplies, and created a host of new ones. With the help of fellow officers, Nguyen started the Scrub Me Downs Program, which arranges for seniors to donate their no-longer-needed scrubs to freshman, and Clinical 101, where a panel of seniors share tips and tricks on how to survive nursing school.

That’s all while still contributing to MSNA as treasurer.

“This semester has been amazing,” Nguyen said. “Being in both organizations has really helped me become a well-rounded leader because MSNA does things a lot differently than SNA. Being able to lead in one organization actually helps me lead in the other. I have to be flexible and adaptable. They’re both great organizations to be a part of.”

Leadership hasn’t been the only positive of her time at UMSL. There have been professors such as Amanda Finley, who Nguyen credits with helping her through some difficult classes, and her first clinical instructor Beth Dudley, who never fails to stop and ask about Nguyen’s job prospects.

Nguyen has some ideas about those prospects thanks to shadowing at a Veterans Affairs hospital. There she discovered operation room nursing and felt she had found her career.

“I absolutely loved it,” she said. “I love the sterility of it. The organization of it. I love being right next to the doctor, being in the front row for procedures. I thought that was really cool, so I’m trying my hardest to get in there. But they don’t really hire new grads, except as a special exception. I want to go and get that experience first, and then try to get in the water.”

Nguyen already has one offer from SSM Health as an endoscopy nurse, and she’s decided to try to apply for an OR position as a long shot. Regardless of where she ends up, graduating and becoming a nurse will help fulfill a longtime goal of Nguyen, who first decided on the career in high school.

“What finally solidified it was my aunt passing away from cancer,” Nguyen recalled. “We went to go visit her before she passed, and the doctors weren’t really there. The nurse was there all the time, giving us a lot of guidance, a lot of direction, a lot of comfort. I think that was when I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to be that person for somebody else or for someone else’s family. This is it.’”

That’s not the only way family set Nguyen on a path – her very name reflects her family’s story. Her parents, two of the Vietnamese boat people, met and fell in love fleeing Vietnam, and Nguyen was born in a refugee camp in Indonesia.

Her parents returned to Vietnam and eventually emigrated to the U.S. but their past is forever recorded in Nguyen’s first name, which is the Indonesia island home to their refugee camp: Galang.

Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen