Georgia State College of Law student Melinda Nguyen is focused on finding a way to use her law degree to help people.
The daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Nguyen (J.D. ’22) was born in Southern California and moved often during her childhood. Her parents arrived in America after fleeing the Vietnam War, but never spoke about what they’d left behind. It was not until she enrolled at UC Santa Barbara that Nguyen understood the gravity of that fact.
“I was taking an Asian American Studies course,” she said. “I was learning about history of immigration policy. I learned how there were specifically racist laws targeted against Asians. At the same time, the Muslim ban was happening. It just didn’t sit well with me how different communities were being treated differently.”
That course planted the seed for her interest in immigration law and helped Nguyen find her calling.
“My parents never talked about their trauma,” she said. “They let me grow up blissfully ignorant of all that. When I did learn about it, it amazed me how resilient they were and how they did whatever they could to survive. They put me in a position where I can worry about other people and spend my life in public service to help other people.”
Nguyen also has firsthand experience with the challenges of the American legal system, which were exacerbated by a limited understanding of English.
Her uncle was incarcerated at the age of 24 to serve life without the possibility of parole. He has maintained his innocence over the last 33 years, spending his time studying the law, obtaining associate’s degrees and filing pro se Habeas Corpus petitions. His experience only further pushed Nguyen toward law school.
“I decided to become an attorney to prevent other families from having to suffer what my family did,” Nguyen said. “That is what fuels my desire to spend my life advocating on behalf of those who are not in the position to advocate for themselves.”
During an internship in Washington, D.C., Nguyen attended a protest of the practice of separating families at the border. That is where she met fellow Georgia State College of Law student Anthony Nguyen and decided to remain on the east coast to pursue her law degree.
“He really convinced me to look at Georgia State,” she said. “It was affordable, especially compared to some of the schools I was looking at in California or D.C. I was used to moving around, so I thought, new school, new city, why not?”
Since enrolling at Georgia State, Nguyen has taken full advantage of the public service opportunities the school has provided. She volunteered with the Georgia Innocence Project after her first year of law school. This summer, Nguyen is a fellow for the John Paul Stevens Fellowship Program. She is on track to graduate with the Certificate in Public Interest Law and Policy, she has participated in the Immigration Clinic, and she is slated to complete an externship with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the fall.
“What I learned was that part of being interested in public interest work is that I care about so many different problems,” Nguyen said. “It can be hard to choose what to really focus on. What I like about Georgia State is having the opportunity to focus on so many different areas of law to find out where I can make the biggest difference.”
Making a large-scale impact for people in need is still her focus. She said she wants to be on the ground providing legal services directly to communities in need.
“If I can eventually find a position to influence policy, I can make a bigger impact,” Nguyen said. “You can fix a lot more problems communities are facing.”
Written by Alex Resnak