DVIDS – News – From Communist Repression to Freedom: Marine Scientist Endures and Pays Forward


Sharon Nicholas, a scientist with the Corona Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) for over 20 years, endured many challenges while growing up in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

The second of five daughters of former South Vietnamese military officer Tom Nguyen, Nicholas has faced fear and poverty. After the fall of Saigon in April 1975, South Vietnamese men – from former military officers to religious leaders and those who worked for the American or South Vietnamese governments – were sent to learn the ways of the new government in camps in ” re-education “. They were given instructions to bring enough food and clothing to last a while, but they quickly learned that there was no plan to release them someday. The camps were in fact prison camps, although they were never tried, tried or convicted of any crime.

Nicholas’ father came to the camp as ordered and was forced to do forced labor for five years. Working in the forest, chopping trees by hand and growing crops for the Communist Party without pay made it difficult to provide for his family, so they were left to fend for themselves.

“My mom worked a couple of jobs trying to support us, and we sold the food we could grow on the streets to survive,” Nicholas said. “My sisters and I learned to cook and clean from an early age to help my mother. “

Knowing that he had to do something to help his family, Nguyen risked his life and fled the country to escape the Communist regime, becoming one of history’s famous “boat people”. Luckily, the small boat on which he and other refugees fled Vietnam was finally rescued from the sea by the crew aboard the USS Robison (DDG 12), a US guided missile destroyer. Navy.

After being towed to safety on December 10, 1980, Nguyen spent the next 45 days in rehabilitation in Thailand. From there he was sent to Indonesia to establish, organize and train 27 Vietnamese refugee classes in English as a second language. He finally arrived on American shores in April 1982.

After his escape, the Vietnamese government closely monitored his family.

“The government kept giving us a hard time, checking our house every day,” Nicholas said. “They had watchdogs that kept asking my mom where my dad was, and we had to report any visitors we had. This continued for about five years after my father left, until the Vietnam / US policy was opened up. “

Politics allowed Nicholas and his family to leave their Vietnamese village and reunite with his father in a new land of opportunity.

“We immigrated to the United States on April 17, 1991, after graduating from high school,” she said. “I was almost 19.

Nicholas took advantage of what she calls “the American dream” when she and her family finally joined her father in California. It had been 10 years since they had separated and, although she missed her village when they arrived, she knew that she now had more educational opportunities. After she excelled in high school, she set about pursuing studies.

In order to help support his family while seeking academic and financial aid, Nicholas and two of his sisters obtained cosmetology licenses. She started working in a nail salon while attending Saddleback College.

“I applied to several universities and got accepted to a lot of them, but wanted to be close to home,” she said. “So I enrolled at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) to study math and moved in with a colleague. I was able to save money to pay for my rent, car insurance, books and food by working part time and attending school full time.

Her first major was biochemistry, but because her English was limited and she was good with numbers, she changed her major to math. This, combined with her love of chemistry and physics, has placed her on her current career path.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from UCR, Nicholas said it was difficult to find a job as most math majors went on to become teachers or pursue higher education. She continued to work in the nail salon while looking for a job where her degree would be beneficial.

“A customer and some friends worked at Quest Diagnostics and told me they were looking for employees, so I applied,” said Nicholas. “It’s been 21 years, and I’m still working part-time today in the Department of Biochemical Genetics.

After working there for a year, she learned of an opening with the US Navy in Corona. It was a golden opportunity for her to pay up front; Nicholas credits the Navy with saving his father’s life when he fled Vietnam years earlier.

The timing was perfect. The Navy had just opened its new measurement science and technology laboratory and needed majors in mathematics. She submitted her resume, interviewed and embarked on her career in the Navy.

“I work in the calibration reliability section, where we analyze the results of almost half a million calibrations per year,” she said. “My data analysis is used to optimize the recall periodicity of Navy test equipment, ensuring high reliability to meet ship deployment schedules at an affordable price.

Although there weren’t many women in her career field when she started, Nicholas said she considered herself lucky.

“When I started my career, we had so many people to mentor me to do the job, so I was able to adapt and learn on the job,” she said. “There has been a lot of support and mentorship from senior management. I was the only woman at the time but I didn’t feel any discrimination; I knocked on doors until they answered my questions. I wanted to do my job. “

Nicholas thinks it can be difficult for young scientists today to find the same kind of help. But, like her father before her, she establishes, organizes, and trains others to help them be successful.

“Today they can learn everything online, but they don’t have a lot of opportunities to interact with senior mentors like my generation did,” she said. “I communicate, train and mentor new employees at NSWC Corona to help them develop their careers. “

Nicholas said his passion is being able to share knowledge, give back, and mentor and coach the younger generation so they can improve their lives. She has a long list of selfless efforts of which she is very proud.

Nicholas volunteered to judge science fairs, academics, and STEM projects, and joined colleagues in hosting multicultural diversity events and student career fairs. She is actively involved with the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) with the goal of helping others live the American dream. She works with FAPAC members to organize leadership training, student career fairs and facilitate scholarship awards.

She worked with the Vietnamese American Community (VAC) and the Free Wheelchair Mission to help raise funds for 3,000 wheelchairs that were delivered to disabled Vietnamese who could not afford them. She hosted “The Lucky Few”, an event held to honor and show appreciation for the heroes of the US Navy and South Vietnamese military who saved thousands of Vietnamese refugees like her father.

Perhaps most notably, Nicholas mentored and coached a disabled girl living in the Vietnamese countryside, Linh Nguyen, to develop a career as a tailor. This enabled Linh to teach other rural girls how to be tailors, learn marketable skills, and lead more meaningful and meaningful lives.

During the pandemic, Nicholas and his VAC group made more than 30,000 masks to distribute to nursing homes, hospitals, local businesses, police departments and schools. She also sponsored Linh and her students in Vietnam to make and distribute 30,000 masks to their neighbors in the village.

“I can handle anything that comes my way, regardless of the challenges and choices that life presents to me,” she said. “God gives me core values ​​for my actions and decisions that allow me to stay out of trouble, improve my confidence and self-esteem, and advance my life goals. “

Nicholas married her husband, a real estate broker, in 2005. She continues her work with Quest and as a scientist with the Navy to support American fighters. Her childhood might not have been easy, but the way she relates, her trip was worth it.

“I appreciate my husband, my family, my coworkers, coworkers, friends who have always been there to support me and all the people who have filled the space in my life that God has arranged for me to meet,” he said. she declared. “I appreciate the great opportunities I have and the ability to live the American dream. I had the opportunity to come to America, to be free and to develop my career. I want to continue paying to the next one.

NSWC Corona Division has served as the Navy’s independent assessment officer since 1964. With more than 3,900 engineers, scientists and support personnel, sailors and contractors, NSWC Corona is located in Norco, Calif., With detachments in Fallbrook and Seal Beach and staff at 14 other Locations. NAVSEA field activity provides transparency for combat readiness through data analysis and evaluation, designs the live virtual constructive training environment of the fleet, and ensures measurement accuracy as as a technical advisor for the Navy and Marine Corps metrology and calibration programs.

Date taken: 09/27/2021
Date posted: 09/27/2021 20:25
Story ID: 406143
Site: CORONA, California, United States

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