Linda Trinh Vo lived in five countries before, at age 14, she landed in a racially diverse Southern California high school divided by ethnic and class conflicts.

It’s no wonder she became a sociologist.

“I wanted to learn more about the different societies I lived in and also to better understand the history of immigration to the U.S.,” says Vo, an associate professor in Asian American Studies who teaches ethnic studies, race relations and women’s studies courses. “Sociology gave me the analytical tools to understand the world I had been exposed to from another perspective. It gave me a way to become educated about my own history and ancestry. I learned that knowledge can be very empowering.”

To Vo, this is one of the most valuable insights she can offer students. She encourages them to do volunteer work in their communities and, through class assignments and mentoring activities, involves them in social service organizations – all to help them more fully understand their classroom studies on socioeconomic and educational inequities, racial differences and social conflicts. These real-life experiences also influence their career decisions and provide professional contacts.

Learning Through Involvement
That’s how it worked for Karen Nguyen. A 2005 graduate in political science, she was inspired to pursue a career in public policy after mentoring children at a nonprofit organization that assists Cambodian and Latino families in Santa Ana. “Professor Vo challenged me to do volunteer work and to keep a journal about my activities,” says Nguyen, who plans to go to law school. “It was a defining moment for me. What I learned through the experience made me a better person.”

Vo devotes her own time and passion to the community through service as a board member of the Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance, the Vietnamese International Film Festival and the UCI Southeast Asian Archive – setting an example that is key to her success in motivating students.