April 16, 2018

Texas A&M Galveston marine biology student Michelle Nguyen ’18 has always known what career she wanted to pursue. When she was eight years old, her family went on a vacation to Mexico. One morning, her dad took her to a mini scuba lesson with a dive instructor. “The entire world opened up to me underwater,” she said. “To think that there is so much more to life than what we can see on land—it was awe-inspiring. I didn’t have a word for it, but I knew immediately that it was what I wanted to spend my life doing.”

Michelle Nguyen '18 is currently studying marine biology while also pursuing a double minor in diving and oceanography.

Nguyen’s journey to Texas A&M Galveston was a long one. Originally from Dallas, she explored universities for marine biology across the nation. As a first-generation college student and a first-generation Vietnamese American, she knew that she would face difficulties when it came to financing her education. “My parents are an amazing support system,” she said. “They didn’t want me to worry about money, but I understood that I would likely need to find a job as a student.”

It wasn’t until Nguyen was offered the Abe and Peggy J. Levy Foundation Scholarship—a four-year, $10,000 award per year—that she decided to tour Texas A&M Galveston. Almost immediately, she fell in love.

Writing an Aggie Story

The Abe and Peggy J. Levy Foundation was established in 1994 to provide economic assistance to incoming freshmen at Texas A&M Galveston. The foundation was the brainchild of Dr. Abe Levy ’38, a veterinarian who directed the Animal Care Center at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston for many years. Known throughout the community as “Uncle Abe” and “Doc,” he was a man of unique charm with a generous soul.

“Uncle Abe didn’t have children, but he wanted to create something to benefit students,” said Marilyn McFatridge, Abe Levy's niece who serves as chairperson of the Levy Foundation. “When Abe passed, we saw that his concerns were more closely aligned with Texas A&M Galveston, and the need for financial support was there, too.”

Nguyen expanding her knowledge by studying the diamondback terrapin, Maryland's official state reptile.

Since its conception, the Levy Foundation has given $1,576,250 to Texas A&M Galveston, with its giving during the Lead by Example campaign totaling $840,000. This academic year, the organization will award 14 scholarships to Texas A&M Galveston students with hopes that the support will alleviate financial burdens and allow students to focus on their studies.

Nguyen’s story proves just how impactful the Levy Foundation has been. Nguyen is a member of at least five student organizations, including the Texas A&M Galveston Honors program, SALT Camp (Galveston’s version of FISH Camp), the Big Event and Living Learning Communities. She is also vice president of the Maroon Delegates, which she helped establish during her time on campus to allow students to give back to the donors who support them. The group is modeled after the Texas A&M Foundation’s Maroon Coats in College Station.

“My campus involvement is only possible because of my Levy Foundation scholarship,” she said. “It’s not just about the money either; this scholarship has allowed me to write my own Aggie story. Because of it, I reach out for more opportunities, and I’m always looking to better myself.”

A Second Family

As a family organization, the Abe and Peggy J. Levy Foundation works to foster familial relationships with its scholarship recipients by staying involved in their lives. In addition to an annual Levy Foundation reception, it’s not uncommon to see students and board members having lunch together. “We’re basically like their grandchildren,” laughed Nguyen. “It’s another family that I belong to outside of the Aggie family.”

As it continues to grow, the Levy Foundation holds long-term goals for the future that would allow it to better serve more students. “One of our goals is to create a community of current and former scholarship recipients,” explained McFatridge. “We’d love to have alumni come back to work with us and to help us grow a network of support.”

While Nguyen—currently a marine biology student pursuing a double-minor in diving and oceanography—has dreams of obtaining her Ph.D. in biological oceanography, she’d like to stay involved with the Levy Foundation. “Once I’m financially stable, I’ll be giving back in any way I can,” she said. “Really, everything that I do is connected to this scholarship. Because of it, I can focus more on my research studies and lab work on campus, which ultimately enabled me to land an amazing internship with Horn Point Laboratory and attend the Ocean Sciences Meeting conference in Portland, Oregon.”

Nguyen knew she wanted to study marine biology at a young age after her father took her on a mini scuba lesson. She fell in love with diving and now studies and practices it further.

Last summer, Nguyen also spent 12 weeks as a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates fellow at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science program, based at the Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, Maryland. Nguyen’s focus at Horn Point was investigating the effects of hatchery conditions on the success of oyster larvae, along with recording any changes to the oysters’ durability.

Though her background was with phytoplankton, Nguyen felt lucky. “I was fortunate to work with talented faculty from Cornell University,” she said. “We were learning something new every day, working 12-hour days, and we were totally exhausted at the end of each day.” 

The program was immersive and extensive, from writing proposals and forming research hypotheses to working in a graduate-level lab environment and managing data collection. In a 12-week period, Nguyen certainly learned a lot of valuable information, but what she discovered about herself was equally important. “I learned about the importance of enthusiasm and energy and that I love research and science communication. Group morale is everything,” she added.

While the Abe and Peggy J. Levy Foundation works to sustain the legacy of Abe Levy by awarding scholarships to students like himself—those with a love for people, animals and the world—it is simultaneously manifesting its own legacy at Texas A&M Galveston—a legacy of love, philanthropy and fellowship.