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Penn College engineering design grad seizes ‘second chance’

When told that he would be moving from Vietnam to the United States, Long H. Nguyen embraced the adventure as a second chance at life. More than 13 years later, it’s obvious the Pennsylvania College of Technology graduate has taken full advantage of that precious opportunity.

Nguyen recently earned his second Penn College degree and received a promotion at his employer of five years – the Andritz Group, an international technology company. The honors graduate is a design engineer at Andritz’s global foundry and manufacturing facility for Durametal refiner plates in Muncy.

“Why try to follow the path that everyone else follows? You’ve got to make your path,” Nguyen said.

His path was 8,700 miles away in the United States.

In December 2007, he relocated with 11 family members from Dalat in southern Vietnam’s Central Highlands to Hughesville in north-central Pennsylvania. Nguyen and his family moved in with his grandparents, who settled in the borough following the Vietnam War.

“When my parents told me that we were moving to the U.S., I was very excited,” Nguyen said. “That year I got bullied a lot at school, so I kind of gave up on school. I took coming to America as a second opportunity at life. I could reset. If I was in Vietnam right now, I can’t see myself anywhere near where I am today.”

Nguyen enjoys a thriving career and has his name on two patent applications related to his work at the Andritz facility devoted to the pulp and paper industries. Nguyen’s main responsibilities encompass reverse engineering and product design. Refiner plates is the singular focus of his multiple pursuits.

Refiner plates are the heart of paper and pulp machines. Typically, wood chips are inserted between two sets of refiner plates; one plate rotates, and the other is stationary. Wood is broken down while passing through the small gap between the plates. The process produces wood fibers, which are often combined to make various types of paper.

Andritz’s Muncy plant produces 36,000-plus circles of refiner plates annually.

“Penn College has given me the knowledge and skill set needed for my field, which has allowed me to tackle many complex designs and challenges over the past five years of working for Andritz,” Nguyen said.

Today’s reality appeared to be an unlikely dream when Nguyen arrived in the U.S. at the age of 13. He didn’t speak or understand English, which made him apprehensive about venturing outside his home. It took a couple years of working with an English as a second language teacher, using a Vietnamese to English dictionary and repeating the words of his classmates to feel somewhat comfortable with the language.

“At first, I didn’t know what everybody was talking about. I just listened and tried to do my own thing, except for math because math is numbers. I was very good at that,” Nguyen said.

Eventually he became friends with some students who inspired him to excel in multiple disciplines. By his high school graduation, Nguyen won a slew of academic awards for a subject and passion that he discovered by accident.

Hughesville High School’s campus includes the Lycoming Career and Technology Center, the home of technical training programs for secondary students throughout the region. As a Hughesville junior, Nguyen had to walk through Lyco CTC on his way to gym class. One day, an open classroom filled with dual computer monitors gave his mind a workout.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my God! What do they do in there?'” he recalled.

Drafting and design was the answer.

Nguyen registered for that program and spent part of his days throughout his junior and senior years honing those skills at Lyco CTC.

“I was able to pick up things so fast. Within one year, I was very proficient with AutoCAD and Inventor (computer-aided drafting and design) software,” he said. “It just came to me. I was gifted with the mindset for design.”

He took that mindset to Penn College, attracted by the college’s applied approach to education.

Nguyen completed his Penn College studies with a 3.94 grade point average. He earned an associate degree in engineering CAD technology in 2016 and went to work full time for Andritz. During the next five years, Nguyen took a couple classes a semester to complete a bachelor’s degree in engineering design technology, which he obtained in May.

For his capstone project, he designed a small device that can accelerate the drying process of sweaty sneakers for greater comfort and odor control. Nguyen can’t reveal too much about the project because he intends to apply for a patent.

“Long the student, has always been serious about doing well with his academics, for which I am always impressed,” said Katherine A. Walker, assistant professor of engineering design technology. “Long the person, has a joyful heart with sincere appreciation for the opportunities that have presented themselves to him. His optimism and energy are contagious and an encouragement to others.”

When the design team went away for a retreat, Nguyen reversed engineered old handmade designs of refiner plates. That impressive effort led to more responsibilities, such as designing low consistency refiner plates – which increase the length of fiber – and creating mold designs.

“Penn College taught me not to limit myself with design. If it doesn’t work, try a new thing. Think outside the box. Come up with something crazy because something crazy might work,” he said.

“Let your imagination take you to wherever you’re supposed to be.”

In his new role as design engineer for Andritz, Nguyen recently went on a business trip to South Carolina. It was the first time since he arrived in America that he traveled outside of Pennsylvania. On the return drive home, his boss swung by the coast so Nguyen could experience the ocean for the first time.

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