A person in a suit posing for a portrait.
Kevin Nguyen said he is drawn to the strategic side of advertising — the research, data and insights that build concepts around an ad campaign — because it delves into human nature. "I love talking to people and finding out what makes them human and what makes them happy," he said. (Courtesy photo)

Class of 2020: ‘Once-in-a-lifetime student’ Kevin Nguyen embraces the strategic side of advertising

Nguyen’s dynamic efforts, unifying energy and interest in people brought an influx of programming to VCU’s ad program.

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Though VCU will not hold an in-person commencement ceremony this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the university will host a virtual commencement celebration May 8 and spring graduates will be invited to participate in the university's formal commencement ceremony on Dec. 12. In these challenging times, thousands of students will earn their degrees this spring. These are some of their stories.

When social distancing health measures caused by the coronavirus cut short the VCU advertising club’s spring break trip to New York City, club president Kevin Nguyen took another tact to help students connect with industry professionals. He reached out to the advertising program’s alumni network and contacts he had made through previous events to plan online webinars instead. 

“I want to help inspire and motivate my friends and classmates and give everyone opportunities that they otherwise may not get,” Nguyen said.

Creating new and innovative events and connections is a mark that Nguyen, who graduates in May from the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences with degrees in creative advertising and strategic advertising, leaves on Robertson's advertising program. When Nguyen took the reins of the student advertising club, activities increased and membership rose 270%.

Nguyen said he is drawn to the strategic side of advertising — the research, data and insights that build concepts around an ad campaign — because it delves into human nature. 

“I love talking to people and finding out what makes them human and what makes them happy,”  Nguyen said. “I’m a strategist at heart because I love researching.” 

Motivated to help

In November, Nguyen helped organize the One Club for Creativity Strategic Boot Camp for students in the Robertson School. The event was a two-day competition in which 60 students attended workshops and competed to create the best creative briefings, judged by industry professionals.

Jessica Collins, an assistant professor of advertising and co-adviser of the VCU advertising club, said as president of the group, Nguyen has been nonstop coming up with ideas for students to get out into professional settings. 

“He is one of the most-motivated students I have ever seen in my entire life,” Collins said. “He came to me to organize that student workshop. In the fall, he found all these advertising agencies in New York City that students could visit. They did that in the spring too, visiting these huge ad agencies.”

I love talking to people and finding out what makes them human and what makes them happy.

Collins praised Nguyen’s efforts to help classmates create videos about themselves for applications to the Multicultural Advertising Intern Program. She also credits Nguyen for organizing VCU students to participate in the Effie Collegiate Competition, which provides students with the opportunity to research and create professional-level marketing and communications plans for established brands. 

As president of the Advertising Club at VCU, Nguyen also helped organize resume and portfolio review workshops, LinkedIn review days, networking events and tours of local agencies. His hard work has not gone unnoticed. He was inducted into the Kappa Tau Alpha honor society that recognizes standout students in journalism and mass communications.

“He’s one of a kind,” Collins said. “It’s effortless. It’s not strained. He strived to better programs at VCU. He was well-liked and funny. He just has a poise about him. It’s easy to say he’s a once-in-a-lifetime student.”

Learning beyond the classroom

While at VCU, Nguyen took advantage of numerous learning opportunities beyond the classroom. He was one of seven students to participate in VCU's first study abroad program in Da Nang, Vietnam, in partnership with The American University in Vietnam. Nguyen’s travel expenses were covered by a grant from the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Endowed Fund. Students were asked to document the trip through a shareable multimedia format that would appeal to travelers and tourists. Nguyen created a food blog.

“I chose to focus on Vietnamese food while I was there, since food is such an important part of every culture, while also being one that is easily shareable,” Nguyen said. “The goal of the whole project was to try to gain tourists for Vietnam, and there is a multi-million dollar industry centered around Food Tourism — people traveling to taste exotic food and blog/vlog/post about their experiences. One of the highlights was eating a traditional bowl of Bun Bo Hue in the city of Hue, where the dish originated.”

After the 10-day VCU trip, Nguyen landed a three-month internship at Savills, an international real estate investment and development company in Ho Chi Minh City. Nguyen worked as a marketing and communications intern, and helped translate publications into English.

“I also helped plan events and organized launch parties for grand openings, multimillion [dollar] developments and hotels,” Nguyen said. “I ended my internship by translating the annual Market Research Report that was sent to hundreds of investors throughout Asia, the U.K., U.S., Australia, Dubai and other European countries.”

While finishing the semester at home in Northern Virginia, Nguyen continues to network with professionals in the advertising industry to figure out his next steps. And despite the turmoil in the world, he is optimistic about the future. 

“The professors at VCU have always taught us to create work that is culturally relevant and has an emotional appeal to it,” Nguyen said. “That's what a lot of companies are starting to do, especially amidst this pandemic. Right now, a lot of people are feeling confused and isolated so the work that's being put out is doing a great job of reminding people that we'll all get through this situation together.”