She was abandoned alongside a street in Vietnam at the age of 2 and came to America as a teen not knowing a word of English. Meet Angela Ngo, a Grossmont College professor of nursing and a 2014 recent recipient of the school’s Teaching Excellence Award.
“She’s an amazing teacher,” said nursing student Tamara McMillan. “She will challenge you, she is very tough, but she also is the nicest person in the world and she brings out qualities in you that you didn’t know you had.”
Ngo said she has wanted to be a nurse for as long as she can remember and her love of the profession led her into teaching the craft. She has been working at Scripps La Jolla since 2003 and joined the Grossmont College staff first as a clinical instructor in 2007 and then as a full-time faculty member the following year.
“It is an honor and a privilege to take care of someone in their most vulnerable time,” Ngo said of nursing.
Ngo, 41, is keenly aware of what it’s like to be vulnerable. Fathered by an American serviceman (whom she never met) near the end of the Vietnam War, Ngo speaks matter-of-factly about how she was abandoned by her mother.
“That’s how it is in Vietnam, still,” Ngo said. “There are orphanages, but many people who cannot afford to raise their children will put them in the market and leave.” Ngo was left on the side of a street in Ho Chi Minh City. A vendor soon spotted her. “She took me home and she claimed me as her daughter.”
Ngo and her adopted mother left for the United States after Ngo graduated from high school. Amerasians, the children of American servicemen and Asian mothers, were not allowed to attend college in Vietnam. So Ngo, then 19, left for San Diego with her adoptive mother.
“I did not speak any English so I took ESL classes,” Ngo said. “And I worked fulltime as a housekeeper.” Her English improving, Ngo enrolled at San Diego City College in 1995, four years after arriving in the United States. She later transferred to San Diego State University, from where she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She immediately went to work at Scripps La Jolla. Two years later, she earned her master’s degree.
“Hers is such an incredible story,” said Debbie Yaddow, Dean of Allied Health and Nursing at Grossmont College. “And Angela is just an amazing person.”
To Ngo, what is more amazing are the options available in this country.
“America is such a land of opportunity, and I will forever remain grateful to be able to come here,” Ngo said.
She also deftly deflects any praise for her recent commendation from Grossmont College.
“I am honored to have received this award, but it really speaks more highly about the nursing program we have here,” said Ngo. “It is a wonderful program where everyone is nurturing each other and helping them do their best. Everybody, from the dean to the assistant director to the faculty, is willing to share their knowledge with each other. It is truly a gift to work in a supportive, nurturing environment.”
But Yaddow said Ngo deserves the accolade. “She is the type of person who will do anything to make sure her students will be successful.”