Lily Nguyen

Thu-Lan Lily Nguyen

Teen graduates with biochemistry degree from Cal State LA

She was one of the youngest graduates in the university's Class of 2019.



Lily Nguyen

By Margie Low  |  Cal State LA News Service


While most teens were finishing high school, 18-year-old Thu-Lan Lily Nguyen graduated summa cum laude from Cal State LA with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and a double minor in biology and psychology.

The Pomona resident was one of the youngest graduates in the university’s Class of 2019.

Nguyen was only 13 years old when she enrolled at Cal State LA through the Early Entrance Program. The program, which accepts highly gifted students as young as 11 years old, is administered by the university’s Honors College.

“Cal State LA has stimulated my intellectual growth,” Nguyen says. “The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry also helped me find my passion in research, while the Honors College was instrumental in my development as a scholar and a leader.”

As a young student, Nguyen thought about majoring in mechanical engineering and following in her parents’ footsteps. But when she took a lower division biochemistry class for her general education requirements, she noted, “I fell in love with chemistry.”

“I was fascinated by the inner workings of the living organism, and with how life works in a molecular level,” she explains.

Nguyen eventually joined an interdisciplinary research lab team to examine the roles of different genes in brain development. She also had an opportunity to participate in a summer research internship at Washington State University. 

Nguyen has been conducting research at Cal State LA with Professors James Rudd and Ji Son for the past three years. She studied pedagogy in chemistry to seek ways to enhance student learning and performance as part of her thesis project. She is currently preparing to submit her findings for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Additionally, she conducted research in the Hayes Lab at Cal State LA, cloning and purifying proteins to study editing mechanisms in plants.

“Lily Nguyen has been one of the best students and research colleagues I have ever worked with,” said Professor Michael Hayes. “She has displayed consistent determination, grit and resourcefulness to complete a research project on time. She has demonstrated leadership potential and works well as part of a research team. I feel honored to have been able to work with such a dedicated student researcher.”

A Dean’s List student, Nguyen is a recipient of an Elliott R. Barton Scholarship and a Douglas L. Curell Endowed Scholarship. She is an active member of the Chemistry & Biochemistry Club and serves as vice chair for finance on the Finance Committee for Associated Students, Inc. at Cal State LA.

Nguyen is also a member of the university’s Student Health Advisory Committee, organizing programs and activities to educate students about health and wellness. She finds time to take classes in photography and ballet performance. She also enjoys playing the ukulele. Nguyen, who desires to make a difference in her community, has coordinated science outreach projects at local elementary and middle schools.

On May 21, Nguyen joined hundreds of graduates in receiving their degrees during Cal State LA's Commencement ceremony for the College of Natural and Social Sciences. She graduated with a 3.98 GPA.

The National Institutes of Health recently presented Nguyen a Postbaccalaureate Cancer Research Training Award to perform full-time research for two years alongside some of the leading scientists in the world. She will head to the nation’s premier biomedical research center in Bethesda, Maryland, after graduation. Her goal is to pursue a Ph.D. in the future.