As someone who understands the struggle of making ends meet, MPH student Vananh Nguyen has made it her goal to help others as she was once helped – one suit at a time.
Vananh works as a graduate teaching assistant co-advisor for OSU-MANRRS, Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences. In an effort to support its mission of promoting the advancement of underrepresented groups in the sciences, every year OSU-MANRRS hosts a Career Wardrobe Makeover event. This year, Vananh is leading the charge.
“We believe that the best job candidate is well-rounded in technical and soft skills, and our activities reflect that,” she says. “Having a nice looking résumé is critical, but looking professional is just as important during an interview.”
And Vananh knows firsthand how much of a challenge obtaining that professional look can be.
She and her family immigrated to the United States from Vietnam when she was 16. She watched her parents hold several jobs each just to make ends meet, and once she was on her own, she felt that same pinch.
“The Career Wardrobe event provided me my first suit, my first step to the professional world.”
It wasn’t until she attended the OSU-MANRRS 2nd annual Career Wardrobe Makeover event that she was able to purchase her first suit – for just $15.
“When I wore that suit for the first time, I felt like my confidence shot up considerably,” she says. “I went from the shy girl who could barely speak English to feeling as if even with the limited conversation skill, I could still succeed, I could still be someone whose voice could be heard.”
And her voice was heard. She wore that suit to her first real professional outing – the MANRRS national conference. It was there that she gained contacts and made the connections that helped sponsor her attendance to the 44th Presidential Inauguration and Conference in Washington, D.C.
“I had never imagined in my lifetime that I would be able to attend the Presidential Inauguration,” she says. “I brought my first suit with me to attend various workshops and talks held by prominent people of the country such as Colin Powell and Al Gore.”
“These experiences shape who I am today.”
That suit has not only given her the chance to attend various professional conferences, but perhaps most importantly, has provided her with the confidence to be successful.
She’s since taken the spotlight among her peers, competing to be the MANRRS Region VI undergraduate vice-president, as well as presenting her public health-related research to a national audience.
“All these opportunities and exposures to professional settings, and learning about etiquette and experiences in researching have provided me the self-confidence I need for college and in my future career,” she says. “These experiences shape who I am today.”
Now, Vananh is working to help provide a similar experience to fellow students. She’s volunteered for OSU-MANRRS for more than six years, and after being accepted into graduate school, she donated – and someone has already purchased – her first suit.
“I hope that students understand the importance of a first impression in a professional setting,” she says. “You will never know where it will take you in life.”
Vananh encourages students to stop by the 8th annual Career Wardrobe Makeover event Thursday, February 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Donations including new or gently used jackets, pants, skirts, tops, shoes and accessories are collected throughout the year and offered at an affordable price.
“Quality, professional clothing is expensive and is rarely a top priority for most college students,” she says. “However, first impressions are very important in gaining employment or an internship. Understanding this challenge, in an effort to prepare college students for the workforce and in lieu with the sustainability mission of MANRRS, the OSU-MANRRS chapter commits to providing donated recycled business attire at a very low cost for students facing job interviews for internships and/or entering the workforce.”
On top of the low prices, the event also includes free workshops on how to prepare for an interview.
Accreditation and Assessment Manager for the College of Public Health and Human Sciences JoAnne Bunnage will be providing a “Dress for Success” workshop in the Memorial Union Ballroom.
JoAnne, who has a passion for working with young adults as they build foundations for lifelong success, was eager to volunteer after learning about OSU-MANRRS’ mission to support college students as they prepare for successful careers.
“I’m not an ‘expert’ on dressing for success or interviewing, but I wanted to lend my experience in the workplace and enthusiasm for leadership development to this amazing group of OSU students,” she says.
And she’s no stranger to leading a successful career. After receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Oregon State, JoAnne has worked at the University of Washington, the University of Notre Dame and Indiana University Bloomington. Along the way she earned a second master’s degree from Notre Dame and a doctoral degree from Indiana University.
Throughout her 30-year stretch, a significant amount of time was devoted to helping students plan for life after graduation.
“Often they sought my advice about how to prepare for internships and job interviews,” she says. “Coupled with knowledge I gained working part-time at Nordstrom’s, I could offer suggestions about dressing for success and interviewing, and also direct the students to the trained experts on campus for additional help.”
She’s also served on the board of My Sister’s Closet, an organization that provides low-income women pursuing employment with free workforce attire and skill-building workshops.
She plans on using that unique experience to help with this week’s “Dress for Success” workshop. She, Vananh and members of MANRRS have prepared an interactive and informative mini-fashion show. Think “What Not to Wear” attire converted to “Interview ready, professional attire.”
“I hope students will feel more confident about the interview process and prepared to venture into ‘the real world’ where attire and workplace protocol may be very different than on the OSU campus,” she says.
An estimated 200+ students are expected to attend this year’s Career Wardrobe Makeover event, just in time for the OSU Winter Career Fair and Engineering Fair both held in late February.
“We’re very happy to continue to bring the 8th Annual Career Wardrobe Event to OSU students,” says OSU-MANRRS Chapter Advisor Wanda Crannell. “Both JoAnne and Vananh bring such great expertise and enthusiasm, and we anticipate this year’s event to be spectacular. It takes a lot of work and determination to make this happen, and Vananh has shown much leadership and dedication to this cause. I am so proud of her efforts.”
“I understand the importance of how appearance can help make the first impression, good or bad, have a lasting impact on a person,” Vananh says. “I hope that the Career Wardrobe Makeover event can provide the affordable first step for students to become successful, just as it has done so for me.”