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Diverse graduates lead UHV school of Arts and Sciences

Dec. 10, 2011 at 6:10 a.m.

Whitney Damborsky

A home-grown woman from Edna and a Vietnamese immigrant living in Sugar Land are the top graduate student and undergraduate in the University of Houston-Victoria School of Arts & Sciences.

Whitney Damborsky received a master's in forensic psychology during UHV's fall commencement ceremony. Tram-Khanh Nguyen was awarded a bachelor's degree in computer science with a computer information systems concentration.

Each semester, professors from UHV's four schools select at least one outstanding student from both their graduate and undergraduate programs to be honored during commencement. The top Arts & Sciences graduates also will receive a $250 prize from the school's Excellence Fund.

Damborsky and Nguyen graduated in the university's fall commencement ceremony in Katy.

Damborsky, a 2005 graduate of Edna High School, graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average.

"Academics are extremely important to me, and B's are just not acceptable," she said. "My UHV instructors have been really helpful, understanding and accepting. I have been comfortable knowing that any questions I had would be answered."

She said the dedication to her studies meant goodbye to Friday evenings and Saturdays, but she was willing to sacrifice. She has been busy, helping her parents in their small business, working as a teaching assistant and officiating basketball games. At the university, she has been involved in honor societies Gamma Beta Phi, Psi Chi and Phi Kappa Phi, as well as the UHV Criminal Justice Society.

Damborsky will be the first-ever graduate for the new forensic psychology graduate degree, which will complement her 2009 UHV bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Her class material already has been applied to her practicum work at the Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center.

"There is never a dull moment," she said of her job. "With the youth in the center, it is interesting to see what they've gone through in their short lives, and you can see how a balance has to be struck between punitive and therapeutic treatments."

But Damborsky said she is tailor-made for a position at such a center.

"This job and my studies have shown me the environment that I could end up working in, and I love it," she said. "You have to hold on to hope with these youth. You hope what you've taught them will stick, and they'll be able to make positive changes in their lives."

Nguyen has dedicated herself to the American dream after coming to the U.S. from Vietnam. A returning student, she had completed her bachelor's degree in education in Vietnam years ago, and she worked as a teacher in her home country.

"The Vietnamese tradition stresses the importance of education in general, and college education, specifically," said Nguyen, a lifelong learner. "Traditionally, teachers in Vietnam are highly appreciated and respected."

Computer technology had just come to Vietnam when she completed her education degree.

"I took my first computer classes a few years later, and I fell in love with them," Nguyen said. "When I met my husband, who had worked in the information technology field, he inspired me to learn more."

After coming to the U.S., Nguyen wanted to further her education, so she enrolled in the UHV computer science program.

"We have a network at home with a lot of computers, so I found it easy to get into the computer science field," she said. "My husband and I have a small Internet technology business, and growing it is my primary work goal."

Nguyen said studying could be a challenge, but since computer science is a constantly changing field, she is prepared to continue studying and adapting to new technologies.

"I also want to be a good role model for my two children," she said.

While studying and working, she also stayed busy raising her children and volunteering at the Houston Food Bank and at Buddhist temples around Houston, helping them maintain Web sites. During her free time, she enjoys playing piano and table tennis.

"I have a rule for myself to have a goal and be mindful in whatever I am doing," Nguyen said. "Mindfulness helps me see things clearly."

Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences, said Damborsky and Nguyen have shown perseverance and determination in their pursuit of degrees.

"Our students come from such diverse backgrounds, but these graduates have in common the determination to excel in their studies," he said. "The School of Arts & Sciences is constantly looking for ways to improve and expand what we offer to meet the demands of a changing job market, and UHV accommodates student needs through face-to-face and online course offerings with top-quality instructors."

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