Zachary Nguyen ’17 grew up in a studio apartment with his mother in the Southern California immigrant community of Montclair. She worked long days hand-soldering computer chips in a factory, but still found time to fill their space with the comforting scent of homemade pho.
Nguyen spoke English at school, but only Vietnamese at home, where one topic was ever-present: education. “The value of education was instilled in me, and the varying experiences I had in my community and school helped me appreciate diverse perspectives,” says Nguyen. “I was inspired to build connections, help people feel they belong, and take on leadership opportunities.”
A gift for numbers guided Nguyen toward math and economics, and timing reinforced his interests. Enrolling at Wesleyan University in 2008, he “wanted to understand what went wrong with the economy and to leverage my strengths to learn more.”
Navigating college, however, was Culture Shock 101. His mother couldn’t provide the advice he needed to choose a class or major, and he struggled to relate to affluent peers. Over time, he gained confidence, and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics.
Nguyen spent the following two years in Boston as a consultant with Charles River Associates, which provides economic, financial, and strategic expertise for law and accounting firms, corporations, and government agencies. “It was exhilarating working on deals featured in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times,” he says. Collaborating with law firms also helped crystallize his next step: law school.
After considering several top-ranked schools, a visit to Berkeley won him over. “Immediately, I could see myself here,” he recalls. “I’m interested in tech law, and Berkeley is great for that. But really, it was about the people who welcomed me into the community.”
His passions for law and economics converged last summer during a legal internship with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in New York. “At Charles River Associates, I worked with groups that were being investigated by the SEC,” he says. “I knew it would be valuable to see the other side.”
Nguyen stretched himself razor thin as a 2L. He was a teaching assistant for the First-Year Skills Program, served on the Board of Advocates for the Appellate Advocacy team, and was elected editor-in-chief of the California Law Review. He also co-chaired the school’s First Generation Professionals group, and was academic chair for the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association.
“It’s challenging to manage everything,” Nguyen concedes. “But I know I’m making a positive impact on academia and people’s lives.”