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The Visionary Scholarship is an all-expenses paid opportunity for a first time attendee at UNAVSA’s annual leadership conference. The project is sponsored by Huy Duong, and this scholarship offers rising and current leaders in their respective VSAs a chance to meet with other leaders whose ambitions include positively impacting their communities.

Each cohort is different and ranges in size (from 4 to 8), age (from first-years to grad school students), and experience (general members to directors to presidents, and beyond!), but each scholar leaves with a better understanding of the greater North American Vietnamese community and how they can help shape the future they envisioned. We spoke to scholars across five different years (from UNAVSA-13 to UNAVSA-9) to understand how the scholarship has impacted their lives.


What encouraged you to apply for the scholarship, and what was the inspiration behind your application?

To see previous winning applications, see this page.

UNAVSA-12 and UNAVSA-13 Visionary Scholars at UNAVSA-13 in Boston.

Chantel Luu (UNAVSA-13): Being a Vietnamese-Chinese-Canadian, I realized the cost of travel and accommodations would be a huge barrier to accessing this greater community of UNAVSA. When I found out about the visionary scholarship not only did I see an opportunity to physically make it there, I also saw a way to communicate my vision in my context and perspective. At the end of the day, it was seeing the success of those before me and having faith that whatever the outcome I had taken a chance at self growth.

Kat Phan (UNAVSA-12): I never imagined myself interacting with a Vietnamese community larger than Stanford VSA or San Jose, but was intrigued by the first regional (NorCal) conference I had attended earlier that year. With Tony Tran’s (UNAVSA-9) encouragement to pursue engagement beyond the Bay Area, I applied for the scholarship. I made it a goal to use a medium I was uncomfortable with, and also address a topic that is often ignored or tacitly accepted in Asian and Vietnamese communities and relationships.

Thuy Tran (UNAVSA-13): The application process to apply was easy to understand and it provided an opportunity for me to be creative and bring in my personality. I have never been the person who knew how to express myself through spoken words, but I know that there are so many other ways to tell my story. I decided to do something like a poem and video which I have never done before, but I am glad I did.


What have you learned from attending UNAVSA?

UNAVSA- 11 Visionary Scholars with Huy Duong in 2014 in Dallas, TX

Kevin Le (UNAVSA-12): I learned that leadership takes on all shapes and form and that my impact could start now. Seeing how people were able to balance their passion for VSA, social justice, performing, singing, dancing, career, etc., made me realize that you do not have to give up what you love just because it does not align perfectly with your career goals or because you were raised not to worry about those “useless” hobbies.

An Ho (UNAVSA-11):  I gained a greater sense of appreciation and pride for my community, heritage, and upbringing. I connect to current social issues more personally and feel a greater sense of ownership for issues that can influence the Vietnamese community. I would even say that the entire experience makes you feel more “ownership” for how the Vietnamese culture progress in the next decade or two– you start to feel like you have the power to stand up for and contribute to the culture.

Celestine Pham (UNAVSA-11): I’ve learned of the monumental impact of a supportive network. Everyone you meet shapes who you are and when they’re from somewhere other than your hometown, their impact on you is that much more profound. So much additional perspective that helps each other grow a ton. With friends all over the country and in Canada, it’s hard not to feel at home wherever I go. There’s always a friendly body willing to hang or help out. It makes life that much more fun and it’s great being able to see the reach of your network


How would you describe a Visionary Scholar?

Read the bio of several Visionary scholars on this blog post.

UNAVSA-11 and UNAVSA-12 Scholars at UNAVSA-12 in Seattle, WA in 2015.

Jennifer Nguyen (UNAVSA-12): Being a Visionary means that you have to be self motivated and inspired by people around you. At work, sometimes the opportunity is not always presented to you so it is up to you to create new ideas for improvement. Being around such intelligent and driven Visionaries reminds me that I shouldn’t be so afraid to step outside my comfort zone and that anything is possible for me.

Chantel Luu: Being a Visionary Scholar to me means to be an advocate for those without a voice, to be bold and gentle all at once. As leaders of the community I believe a Visionary Scholar is a person who sees the effects of the local to the international, a person who takes time and care to journey from the head to the heart. For future recipients I hope that your purpose as a Visionary Scholar will include a narrative greater than yourselves and you will see the strength in your experiences and identities in the greater scheme of things.

James Timperley (UNAVSA-11): Despite our shared heritage. we all have different stories — Vietnamese-born, mixed-race, maybe we lost the language, maybe we never found a new one…the Vietnamese community is one built from the warmth of shared experience from young and old alike. Every story is different, but every story is important. Growing up as North American-Vietnamese, there was no mirror of stories in the media to look at and say, “hey, I can be like that strong Vietnamese character.” Because of that, there’s a responsibility for leaders (and visionaries) to not only tell their stories, but to tell the stories of others who are silenced and cannot tell their own.
The Visionary family has no two scholars alike; we all bring a unique story and voice to the world, and being of different voices is what makes it such an impactful group of people. Every time I meet other leaders in the Vietnamese community, I continue to be surprised and amazed by the innovation, growth, and community that is built with each year. There is no limit to how much we can give back to our community; there is no limit to what we can do as Vietnamese North Americans.


How has your experience with UNAVSA and the Visionary scholarship translated to a life beyond VSA?

Read the Visionary recap of UNAVSA-12 here.

Visionaries across three generations at their latest retreat on the East Coast.

Joseph Dang (UNAVSA-10): Before I received the scholarship, I told myself that I would never move out of Chicago. I love Chicago. It is my home. There is no better city. Receiving the scholarship and attending my first UNAVSA conference exposed me to the innovation that is happening in communities across our continent. I had the opportunity to build connections with other leaders, learn from mentors, and share ideas with friends from all over the continents. Receiving the scholarship helped open me up to the idea that there were experiences that I could not gain while being in Chicago.

Michelle Tran (UNAVSA-11): The biggest take-away for me was to not be afraid of taking risks. Since meeting so many strong and incredible leaders through the Visionary Scholarship and UNAVSA, I’ve been inspired to set a goal for myself to not be so scared of the “what-ifs” and to just go for it — both professionally and personally. This may sound pretty cliché, but the Visionary Scholarship has given me an extended second family. Even though we’re all from different parts of the world, we still support one another. Whenever I needed help with VSA, had a bad day, or simply wanted a listening ear, I know that a Visionary brother or sister is just a Google Hangout away!

Wesley Tran (UNAVSA-12): Growing up I was always taught that the path to success was to always follow orders and to never speak against authorities. Often times I would think that people in these positions always knew what was right and so I never spoke up against their decisions, even though I may have disagreed. After UNAVSA, I felt so inspired by the people who spoke up for what they believed in. Despite the backlash they may receive, that never hindered them. So in my professional life, I learned the importance of speaking up for myself and really putting myself out there.


What would you say to anyone considering applying for the scholarship?

UNAVSA-10 Visionaries at UNAVSA-10 in 2013, in Anaheim, CA.

Thuy Tran (UNAVSA-13): There is a quote that really means a lot to me lately: “Sometimes what you are most afraid of doing is the very thing that will set you free. In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.” I look back and wondered what if I chose my fear into not applying… I would not have connected with so many  inspiring people. I would not have a strong motivation to continue my involvement in our community. I would not be able to call these loving human beings my family, if it weren’t for the opportunity to be a part of something bigger. If you are hesitating about applying to the Visionary Scholarship, it is a sign that it is significant to you too in some way. So take the chance to experience this heartwarming and impactful chapter of your life.

James Timperley: The Visionary Scholarship did not change my vision for the Vietnamese community. I did not have a sudden moment of inspiration that came because I won an award. What I did find, was a community of incredible people who moved mountains for each other and for the betterment of our people. For that, I will always be grateful. Not only did I learn and grow from these leaders, but I could then share those lessons and growth with my own community in Vancouver. I now have a group that I can always rely on in moments where I need advice and counsel. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


Visionary scholars come from many different background, and there is no specific type of leadership or application that we’re looking for. That being said, we hope you use the application as a chance to challenge us, and yourselves, and show us your vision for the Vietnamese community in the years to come.


The deadline for the Visionary Scholarship application is Monday, May 15 at 11:59 PM PDT. To join the next class of scholars and leaders, head to this link.