Meet Julie Vu, a college senior at the University of California, Berkeley, finishing her degree in Political Economy with a concentration in Technology and Economy. Julie is a Girls Inc. of Island City alumna.
Growing up as a first-generation Vietnamese-American from a low-income household, I struggled academically and socially, especially during primary school. Both of my parents do not speak English, and it was challenging to navigate the education system on my own. I noticed a lack of financial and social capital in my family, and I had to do something to change it. I did not want to be defined by statistics and their stigmas because Girls Inc. has shown me the possibility of building a better future for myself.
I joined Girls Inc. of Island City almost ten years ago, where I formed strong relationships with Girls Inc. staff and fellow participants. Programs such as the Eureka! Teen Achievement Program and Toastmasters International have enriched my experience. One of my favorite experiences was being a designer at the Ethical Fashion Show, which sparked my passion for fashion and allowed me to be creative. I presented my project to apply for the Nordstrom Fashion Ambassador program and was accepted. I continued working for Nordstrom for four years in various roles such as support, web fulfillment, and a sales associate.
Girls Inc. has played a big part in helping me overcome my obstacles. I got rejected from 13 out of 14 colleges I applied to in high school. Despite the stigma for individuals who attend community college, I enrolled in my local community college at College of Alameda as a full-time student and worked at Nordstrom. I worked 30 hours per week during the school year and full-time during the summer as a Sales Associate to save up for my education and invest. The Girls Inc. values embedded in me at a young age gave me the grit and resilience to manage work while being a full-time student. Furthermore, the importance of being “strong, smart, and bold” followed me through my two years in community college, after which I was able to transfer to the University of California, Berkeley.
At school, I have a work-study job as a Student Support Services (SSS) Peer Advocate. This program supports 350+ transfer students who are first-generation and come from low-income backgrounds. My role consists of assisting with administrative tasks and facilitating professional development workshops. I am also passionate about uplifting the voices of underserved and underrepresented communities. I interview and showcase these stories using the hashtag #networkingseries on my LinkedIn profile to be a role model for the first-generation community through my content.
Aside, I was a Development Intern at StreetCode Academy, whose mission is to improve accessibility to the tech industry for communities of color. Working in East Palo Alto has made me realize the education and opportunity gap among underserved and marginalized communities. It motivates me to create positive change in the community and have better representation.
My Girls Inc. Experience has shaped the person I am today. Girls Inc. has helped me grow as a leader in my life to trust in the process and believe in myself in everything I do. As a result, I incorporate the Girls Inc. values into every aspect of my life. There were times when I took a leap of faith to get where I wanted to be. For example, I moved to a new city for an internship and lived independently. I became adaptable by taking the initiative to put myself in a completely different environment and making new connections with people.
I am proud to be a Girls Inc. National Scholar. I want to thank the donors and supporters of Girls Inc. because they have provided opportunities for first-generation students like myself to adapt to a growth mindset and succeed. My advice to girls knowing what I know is to be curious and take the initiative. Then, believe that you can do it well when an opportunity arises. Also, please do not listen to the people who tell you that you cannot do it or let the social stigmas stop you from accomplishing your goals. Most importantly, find a community wherever you go because that is an essential part of networking.