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Ready for Launch

Kimmy Duong and Long Nguyen

Dr. Long V. Nguyen found his way to NC State decades ago because of the launch of a satellite – Sputnik, to be exact.

Today, the alumnus looks back fondly at a college experience that launched him toward success – although in a slightly different direction than originally planned.

Nguyen and his wife, Kimmy T. Duong, recently honored that NC State experience, as well as two of his mentors, with the establishment of the Raymond Murray and Wesley Doggett Extraordinary Opportunity Scholarship to benefit undergraduate students in the College of Sciences. 

It’s a way of paying back the opportunity Nguyen received after the Soviet Union made that first successful satellite launch with Sputnik in October 1957, heating up its Space Race with the United States.

“The U.S. government saw they were behind, and they had an aggressive plan to catch up and surprise the Soviets,” he said. “They spent a lot of money on research through the National Science Foundation, colleges and other agencies.”

The United States also spent a lot of money on recruiting talent. Nguyen – who loved science, physics in particular, when he was growing up in Saigon, Vietnam – found himself among the beneficiaries.

The State Department offered him a college scholarship.

“I was sent then to NC State,” he said. “I could have asked for another school, perhaps, but I was glad to be at NC State. I had a great time there. I was amazed by the campus. I went to a football game for the first time and made so many friends.”

The Extraordinary Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (EOSI), launched in February 2020, has proven popular with donors and 434 students have received the scholarship at least once since it was first awarded that autumn. 

Naming an EOSI endowment after faculty members is less common, but Murray and Doggett, longtime NC State faculty members, made a major impact on Nguyen as he majored in nuclear physics. 

Murray was a pioneer of the atomic age who contributed to the Manhattan Project and helped lead the establishment and growth of NC State’s nuclear engineering program. Doggett was part of the first graduating class in nuclear engineering prior to becoming a faculty member in the Department of Physics.

“I have great admiration for Dr. Doggett and Dr. Murray, and I learned so much from them,” Nguyen said. “They were fantastic teachers who knew their subject inside-out. I love physics and they really helped me develop that passion.”

Nguyen earned his bachelor’s degree in physics in 1963. He went on to earn a master’s in physics from the University of Virginia then a doctorate from Iowa State University. None of the degrees would have been possible, he said, without scholarship support.

By the time Nguyen finished his PhD in 1975, a process slowed by a stint in the Vietnamese army, the Space Race had cooled down. He earned that final degree in a different emerging field that fascinated him, because of its potential impact on the future: computer science. 

After teaching computer science at institutions including Georgetown University, Nguyen founded the information technology firm Pragmatics, based in Reston, Virginia, in 1985. He still serves as chairman and CEO for the company, which has delivered innovative solutions to more than 100 clients in numerous defense and civilian agencies.

Duong joined her husband at Pragmatics in 1987 after a 25-year career with IBM and serves as its vice chairman and CFO. She immigrated to the United States in 1975 after having earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Saigon.  

The couple is active in a wide range of humanitarian and philanthropic efforts. Their gift to NC State is not their first to higher education; they have supported distinguished professorships at Iowa State, for example, and facilities at George Mason University. Duong helms a foundation that provides scholarships each year to students near their home in McLean, Virginia, and in southern California.

“We believe a lot in scholarships,” Nguyen said. “We know that education is the way to get ahead. Like many immigrants, I had parents who really instilled the importance of education in me. Thanks to education, we can advance society and do more meaningful things.”

Nguyen and Duong also instilled the importance of education in their sons:  Dr. Ben Nguyen, a board-certified neurosurgeon who graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Kim Nguyen, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard and a PhD in economics from the University of California at Berkeley.

The parents’ hope is that the gift to NC State inspires others who have benefited from scholarships to consider giving back if they are able. 

Nguyen hasn’t been back to the university since graduation but hopes to visit campus sometime this year. He said he cannot imagine how different NC State looks.

“I am very grateful to the United States,” Nguyen said. “I owe everything to this great country – not only my academic degrees but business opportunities.”

This post was originally published in Giving News.