Scholarship Paves the Way for UWF Student in Pursuit of American Dream
By Kerry Sandell '16, '17
The American dream is an ideal so ingrained in the U.S. culture and belief system that few likely give it much thought. Many hope to achieve it, but for some, financial, cultural and social obstacles put it out of reach.
Imagine coming to a new, unfamiliar country as a child. To make ends meet, your father works seven days a week as a mechanic and your mother works nights making shirts after a long day in the factory. For immigrants and refugees, the American dream embodies a palpable spirit of hope, freedom and opportunity.
It is this spirit that inspired the generosity of an anonymous donor to establish the American Dream Scholarship endowment at the University of West Florida. The American Dream Scholarship is a need-based scholarship with preference given to immigrants and refugees as they build a foundation for their future through education.
American Dream Scholarship recipient and first-generation Asian-American Andy Phu emigrated with his family from Vietnam at seven years old. The early days were difficult. He recalled staying up late with his brother, sewing shirts on a machine purchased by family friends to help his mother fulfill large orders. He says they "had to do what they could."
His parents worked tirelessly to provide for the family. They encouraged Andy and his brother to work hard to achieve academic success, casting a vision for a future that included an education.
"My dad always told us to make sure we stay in school and get good grades so we could have a bright future," Phu says. "He always made sure that we knew our end goal and how far we can reach."
Inspired by his father's counsel, Phu graduated as valedictorian from West Florida High School with a 5.0 GPA. After choosing to continue his education at UWF, he has continued to work hard for academic success and recently earned a coveted co-op in Houston with chemical processing company, Ascend Performance Materials.
He believes that being selected for the co-op also demonstrates the depth of the engineering programs at UWF, which offer real-world experience, such as the Enterprise Program course that pairs mechanical engineering students with companies to create real products.
Phu says this hands-on approach to engineering will continue to benefit UWF students.
"The engineering program is really growing, and I hope to be able to say that when I graduate that I'm part of something that is greater than before I started," Phu says.
When reflecting on the opportunity the American Dream Scholarship has afforded him, Phu says he was reminded of a quote by author James Truslow Adams, speaking of the American dream, "Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement."
Phu says he feels a responsibility to repay the opportunities that have been given to him by giving back to the community and improving it whenever he is able to.
"It's a great opportunity for me and others like me who want to build a foundation for a better life for ourselves and our families," Phu says. "It works two ways—it helps students achieve more and use this opportunity to move on to bigger and better things. It will also inspire others to donate to help students."
Phu plans to become a UWF donor and help others achieve their American dream. That is the real heart of the American Dream, isn't it?