Finding her calling in building relationships, not just a resumé

While fostering community at Saybrook College, Mirabel Nguyen realized kindness was her top priority.
Mirabel Nguyen

Mirabel Nguyen (Photo by Daniel Havlat)

Mirabel Nguyen came to Yale having never visited the campus. In fact, she’d barely seen any photographs before arriving in New Haven for the first time. But when selecting a college, she was determined not to be swayed by beautiful scenery anyway; she wanted to choose a school solely on its academic merits.

Nguyen, from Denver, Colorado, was accepted to Yale through QuestBridge, a national nonprofit program that connects high-achieving students from lower-income backgrounds with selective colleges and universities. She was determined to excel academically and busy herself with extracurricular activities.

But after finally arriving at Yale, she began to develop more holistic goals.

I learned that it’s so much more than academic and extracurricular excellence that matters to me,” Nguyen said. “It’s the relationships that I’ve been building with people that show me how to be a better person.”

By all accounts, Nguyen has been a force for helping to foster a warm, welcoming community within her residential college, Saybrook College, where she has served as activities co-chair, president of the college council, and aide to Head of College Thomas Near.

Nguyen giving a presentation
Mirabel Nguyen leads budget distribution efforts during a Saybrook College Council budget meeting.

Convening people for activities and shared interests took on special importance during her sophomore year, a time when campus life began to take on some semblance of normalcy following the restrictive first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

My fellow activities co-chair and I ran a lot of events that brought us together for formal events or more low-key activities, like an Easter egg hunt in the courtyard,” said Nguyen. “It was hard to develop social relationships when everybody was being quarantined. We were really trying to rebuild the community in our second year.”

As president of the Saybrook College Council, Nguyen encouraged students to participate in the college’s affinity groups, and shared information and served as a point person for her peers. She also fostered a respectful sexual and social climate on campus as a communication and consent educator. A classical pianist, she occasionally performed at her residential college.

For her altruism and community service, Nguyen won the John Schroeder Award, given by the Council of Heads of College to a junior “who will find his or her place and play a part in the good labor of the world.” This year, she won the Saybrook Fellows’ Prize for distinguished intellectual achievement.

In my first year I wondered if Saybrook College was the right fit for me,” she said. “But it became a community where I connected with people — many who are really different from me — in wonderful ways. It was fun to be and work with so many brilliant people who care deeply about their little corners of Saybrook.”

Nguyen majored in the history of science, medicine, and public health. For her senior thesis, Nguyen, who is the daughter of a Vietnamese refugee, explored how the mental health of Vietnamese refugees was evaluated when they arrived in U.S. after the Vietnam War and how those evaluations affected the care and treatment they received. This year, she studied Vietnamese, and is excited about her newfound ability to communicate in her family’s native language. She took “Intensive French” during her first year and studied the language in Paris for a summer.

Mirabel Nguyen with friends after a nighttime frisbee game
Nguyen with some of her closest Saybrook friends after a late-night game of "spikeball" in the courtyards.

As she prepares to graduate, Nguyen says what stands out for her are the little moments she shared with friends — tackling the demands of the intensive, interdisciplinary Directed Studies program in her first year, or eating sandwiches at 2 a.m. —  and the professors whose classrooms were not just places of learning but of community connection as well. She is grateful for the daily phone conversations she had with her mother and sister, who never failed to express their confidence in her ability to succeed.

Nguyen is undecided about future plans, but will spend some time with her family in Colorado after graduating. Law school may be ahead. One goal she is certain of, she said, is “to go forward being a kind person.”

She has come to appreciate the beauty of the Yale campus, but she leaves more certain than ever that the excellence of the university runs deeper than its scenery.

Yale far exceeded my expectations, because while it’s very beautiful on the outside, I think it has so much more beauty on the inside, mostly because of the people I’ve spent my time with,” she said. “I was expecting to grow a lot academically, but most of my learning has come from my friends and the people around me, who have taught me so much about compassion and care.”

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