Q & A with Mai Lien Nguyen with Neelam Savla interviewing on behalf of WACAC

Over the next few months, we hope you have the opportunity to meet the dedicated professionals who make up WACAC through out WACAC Member Spotlight Series. This week we’d like to introduce you to Mai Lien Nguyen, College and Career Counselor at Menlo-Atherton High School in Atheron, Calif.


WACAC: How long have you been working in the counseling field? How has your career path led you to your current work at Menlo-Atherton High School?


Mai Lien Nguyen (MLN): Officially, this is my fifth year in college admissions counseling. I’ve spent about 17-18 years in the education field, teaching history at both public and private schools for most of that time. I love school, and I love helping young people learn about themselves and the world. I’ve always known that working with students in an educational setting was a “must-have” in my life. I took a “gap year” to learn as much as I could about college admissions counseling. Part of that learning included interviewing people on both sides of the desk, including public school college advisors like Alice Kleeman at Menlo-Atherton High School. I worked at Mountain View High School before coming to M-A.


WACAC: How was the transition moving from Mountain View to Menlo-Atherton this summer?


MLN: Fortunately, the similarities between my responsibilities at Menlo-Atherton High Sschool and Mountain View High School have made the transition easier. The biggest transition has really been getting used to the rhythm and structures of a different school: everything from new bell schedules to new students, colleagues, and procedures. So far, what I enjoy the most at M-A is getting to know students, and being able to exercise my skills and knowledge to the fullest at M-A.


WACAC: What is your favorite technique to use when helping students find their best “college fit”?


MLN: If students are still agonizing over a final decision between two colleges they’ve already researched and visited, I suggest living one day as if they had already chosen College A, talking about future plans at College A with family and friends and acting as if the decision had already been made. Then I tell them to live another day as if they had chosen College B, and they are chatting with loved ones and making future plans at College B. What did it feel like to go through each day? What thoughts, feelings, or ideas came up? Of course, I tell them to give family and friends a heads-up that they’re going to try this out.


WACAC: What is the value of WACAC in your career and in all aspects of your life?


MLN: WACAC has been invaluable in helping me to learn about important issues in college admissions and to connect with people who have educated and supported me throughout these early years in my counseling career. I hope to give back to this profession and WACAC in the near future.


WACAC: What advice would you give to others who are just starting out in the college counseling field?


MLN: There’s a lot to learn, so do your homework and listen carefully to mentors you trust. Using good judgment and a moral compass are a must, too. Then pay it all forward.


WACAC: What are you passionate about outside of your career?


MLN: Social justice and music are two things that evoke some of the strongest feelings in me. If I wasn’t an educator, I would’ve explored becoming a constitutional law or civil rights attorney. And if I had unlimited wealth and time, one of the many things I would do is learn musical instrument after musical instrument–just because.


WACAC: Who has impacted you most in your career and how?


MLN: Oh gosh, I cannot narrow this down to a singular person. Perhaps the most important decision I made in my career was to enroll in the UC Berkeley Extension program in College Admissions Counseling, where I had three outstanding instructors: Katy Murphy, Peggy Hock, and Steve Pantell. What I learned from them and in this program set everything about my college counseling career in motion, and I can’t thank these three individuals enough.


WACAC: If you had a free weekend (away from writing letters of recommendation), what would you do?


MLN: Wow, what wouldn’t I do! Watch movies, go hiking, read a book, go to the beach, find great places to eat, take a nap, go to a concert, indulge in shopping, play video games, have a party/bbq/picnic, go dancing, go star-gazing, and watch the sunrise with loved ones.
Thanks, Mai, great meeting you!